Surgeons have used a robot to operate inside the eye and restore sight – in a world first.
A team at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital used the device, controlled via a joystick, to remove a membrane one hundredth of a millimetre thick.
Patient Bill Beaver, 70, a curate in Oxford, said it was “a fairytale”.
Surgeons hope the procedure will pave the way for more complex eye surgery than is currently possible with the human hand.
The BBC had exclusive access to the procedure.
‘I can see’
Rev Beaver said: “It’s almost the world of fairy tales but it’s true. I’m just fortunate that I’m the first to have it.”
Robot assisted surgery is commonplace, but until now had never been used inside the eye.
Prof Robert MacLaren from University of Oxford, who led the procedure, told me: “Operating at the back of the eye needs great precision, and the challenge has been to get a robot system to do that through a tiny hole in the wall of the eye without causing damage as it moves around.
“Most robots in theatre are big, with big engineering whereas this is tiny – everything had to be shrunk down.”
The Preceyes surgical robot was developed by a Dutch company, a spin-out of Eindhoven University of Technology.
The surgeon uses a joystick and touch-screen to guide a thin needle into the eye, while monitoring its progress through a microscope.
The robot, which acts like a mechanical hand, has seven motors and is able to filter out hand tremors from the surgeon.
Large movements of the joystick result in tiny movements of the robot, and if the surgeon releases their grip any movement is frozen.
Rev Beaver was officiating chaplain to the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment until last year.
In July his optician spotted a membrane growing at the back of his right eye. The pressure had created a hole in his retina which was destroying his central vision.
Before his surgery said: “When I hold up a book, all I can see is mush in the centre, and my vision in that eye is restricted to the periphery.”
He underwent the pioneering surgical technique at the end of August.
Prof MacLaren said: “Normally when we do this operation by hand we touch the retina and there is some haemorrhage, but when we used the robot the membrane was lifted cleanly away.” -BBC/DAILYMAIL