Heart operation performed with robotic arm

The world’s first heart operation to use a remote-controlled robotic arm has been carried out at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester.

The technique, designed to cure irregular heart beats, involved using a Remote Catheter Manipulation System (RCMS) to steer catheters into blood vessels at the top of the groin and into the heart.

Electrodes on the catheters then stimulated different regions of the heart to diagnose rogue areas of tissue causing the abnormality. Once these area were identified, the RCMS placed a further catheter in location to ablate the tissue and cure the problem.

The procedure, which can take over six hours, is currently carried out by surgeons who risk being exposed to radiation during surgery. ‘We wear heavy lead aprons to guard against this, but we are only human and you can imagine we get very tired standing for that long,’ explained Dr Andre Ng, who carried out the operation.

‘Using the robotic arm I could do the entire operation remotely from another room…What I found from the experience is that the robot exactly replicated what I would normally do with my hands, and I could manipulate the catheter making very minute increments of movement.’

Unlike existing robot navigation devices, the system developed by US firm, Catheter Robotics, can be used with standard catheters. However, one drawback of the technology is that it lacks haptic feedback- a feature that Ng claims is crucial to surgical operations.

‘Research is being carried out about catheters being able to feed back the force that is exerted in the muscle and this, I anticipate will be available in further development of this system’ he said. ‘Ultimately, I think the goal will be to develop a device that operates in a semi-automated way so that we can reduce human error and improve accuracy.’