Robotic arm used in first remote heart operation

A cardiologist in Leicester has carried out a heart operation using a robotic arm, conducting the procedure remotely with a Wii-like controller

The world's first heart operation using a remote-controlled robotic arm was performed on a British patient in Leicester.

Dr Andre Ng used a Catheter Robotics Remote Catheter Manipulation System on Wednesday for an operation on a patient who suffered from an irregular heartbeat. He started the operation at Glenfield Hospital in the room with the patient, but was able to leave the operating table and continue the surgery from another room.

"It was a remote-control interface connected to the robotic arm, kind of like a Nintendo Wii controller with a handle," Dr Ng, a consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist at Glenfield Hospital, told ZDNet UK. He added he believed it was the world's first remote heart operation.

The Catheter Robotics robotic arm is able to perform miniscule procedures and has three movements — advance and retract, bend, and rotate.

The procedure involved sending thin wires called catheters into blood vessels at the top of the groin to the heart chambers to ablate or burn the tissue in the located area. Electrodes on the catheters stimulate different regions of the heart, which allow the doctor to identify the problem.

The catheters are put in the robotic arm and the doctor can then operate the device remotely in a different room, where they can view monitors. The procedure can take from 30 minutes to several hours.

Without the robot, the surgeon would have to wear a lead apron which could weigh up to 15kg to protect him from the X-rays.

"The new robotic procedure is an important step forward because while some procedures are straightforward, others can take several hours. Because X-rays are used to allow the doctor to monitor what is going on inside the patient, it means that doctors standing close to the patient wear radiation shields such as lead aprons, which are burdensome," said Dr Ng in a statement from the University of Leicester, where he is a senior lecturer.

A major benefit of the robotic arm is its ability to tackle precise locations in the heart and make minute and accurate movements. The procedure itself is risky, but the robotic arm improved the safety of the operation for the patient, added Dr Ng.

"The benefit of the Robotics system to the patient is that movement of the catheter could be done with great precision. It is anticipated that further developments of the system may allow complex procedures to be made more streamlined," he said in a statement.

Catheter Robotics built the arm, which cost £350,000. The New Jersey-based company is inviting other hospitals in US and Europe to use this pioneering technology.

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