Heart surgery by remote robotic arm – British world first


An NHS patient has become the first in the world to undergo heart surgery – with a remote ROBOTIC arm.

Father-of-two Kenneth Crocker, 70, underwent the procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat at the Glenfield Hospital in Glenfield, Leicestershire.

The operation is normally performed by hand and exposes surgeons to dangerous levels of radiation because of the extensive x-rays involved.

But the new technique allows medics to operate a tiny mechanical probe from the safety of a separate control room.

The 3ft long device pushes a surgical tube into the body and the surgeon then ‘steers’ it through a vein into the heart, where it is used to correct faulty tissue fibres.

The traditional procedure takes up to eight hours but Kenneth’s ground-breaking operation was completed in just one hour on Wednesday.

It is the first time that heart surgery has been performed by a remote-controlled robot anywhere in the world.

Speaking ahead of the operation, Kenneth, from Burton-on-Trent, Staffs., said: ”Somebody always has to be the first to try something and I’ve always had a sense of adventure.

”I’ve been very excited about the operation for weeks. It’s a little bit of extra magic being the first in the world.

”I tried Cardioversion, which is electric shock therapy, and different medicines to get rid of the problem but so far nothing has worked.

”I’ve seen the robotic arm and it’s an impressive piece of kit. I’d like to shake hands with it after when I’m cured but maybe that won’t be possible.”

Retired postal worker Kenneth started suffering a heart rhythm problem four years ago and has undergone several unsuccessful treatments for Atrial Flutter and Atrial Fibrillation.

It is the same condition that Tony Blair underwent heart surgery for in 2004.

In the traditional procedure, doctors insert the catheter tubes by hand and rely on more than 250 x-rays during the operation to check on the location of the probe.

This exposed medics to dangerous levels of radiation and they had to wear bulky 5kg lead coats to protect themselves.

Consultant Cardiologist Dr Andre Ng carried out yesterday’s ground-breaking procedure using the Remote Catheter Manipulation System, a £350,000 robotic arm made by Catheter Robotics in New Jersey, USA.

A 6mm wide catheter fitted with a pinhole camera and light was inserted into Kenneth’s groin using keyhole surgery.

Dr Ng then uses the mechanical arm and a TV monitor to control its journey through the body using two buttons – one for direction and one to move forwards and backwards.

The catheter gyrates on the end of the robot’s arm when it detect fibres on the heart’s surface which cause the irregular rhythm.

Radio frequencies are then blasted down the catheter to perform an ‘ablation’ which burns away the faulty fibres on the heart.

This corrects the flow of electrical currents through the organ and restores a regular heartbeat.

The system enables the six-man team of a cardiologist, his assistant, two radiographers and two technicians, to perform the procedure in almost half the time of the traditional method.

Dr Ng said the technique could be used to treat up to 50,000 patients a year who have operations for faulty rhythms.

He said: ”Surgeons receive a phenomenal amount of radiation during these kind of heart operations.

”But with the mechanical arm I can do the same operation from the safety and comfort of the control room.

”This is the first time in the world that the operation has been performed using this fully robotic arm.

”The catheter is programmed to perform exactly the same movements as I would manually which makes it just as precise.

”There’s also the added benefit that the operations are speeded up and more can be carried out because surgeons are not as tired.

”Heart rhythm treatment procedures are very common in people of all ages and there are hundreds of different conditions.

”If you think about the potential of robotic operations in a Star Trek world then in a few years we could do the entire operation by just pushing a button.”

It is the first time a fully-robotic arm has been used to perform heart surgery.

Medics performed a similar operation at St Mary’s Hospital in London using a Sensei robotic arm in 2007.

But the Sensei robot arm was only semi-robotic as it required a surgeon to manipulate the catheters manually with complex controls.

Ian Rankin, from Dot Medical which supplies medical robots in the UK, said: ”The catheters which performed the ablation in the Sensei system are fed through the catheter and controlled by hand, from either inside theatre or using a network controls on the outside.

”The difference with this robot is that the wires go straight into the patient’s body. They are then controlled with two buttons – one for the direction of the catheter and one for it to go in and out.”


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