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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Robot takes on brain surgery
The PathFinder system in action
Neurosurgeons at one of the UK's leading hospitals are about to start using robots to help them during complex operations.

The PathFinder system has been under development for several years, and looks set to be pressed into action for the first time at the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham.

One of the principal problems with brain surgery is the damage to healthy tissues which can be caused as the surgeon aims for tumours or affected areas which may be deep within the brain.

Some conditions are considered inoperable simply because the risk of this collateral damage is too high.

Queen's Medical Centre is to test the system
PathFinder helps to accurately guide surgical instruments to the area of the brain which the surgeon wants to tackle.

This could minimise the amount of damage to healthy tissues, and the risks of brain damage to the patient.

In theory, it could mean that doctors might consider attempting some operations previously thought improbable.

The surgeon programmes the robot by marking a "target" on the patient's scan, and highlighting by which route that area should be approached.

'Precision positioning'

After making a tiny entry hole in the skull, the robot takes over, and gently advances an instrument through the hole towards the target.

It should improve the prospects of treatment for certain categories of patient

Paul Byrnes, consultant neurosurgeon, Queen's Medical Centre
Patrick Finlay, the managing director of Armstrong Healthcare, said: "This is the first robot with the intelligence to map-read a patient's skull from a scanner image.

"It is designed to provide the neurosurgeon with a precision positioning device which is safe and simple to use in increasingly complex procedures."

It is hoped that the device might improve surgical techniques helping patients with cancer, Parkinson's Disease and epilepsy.

Mr Paul Byrnes, a consultant neurosurgeon at the Queen's Medical Centre, said that the development was a "step forward" in surgery.

"It should make difficult operations easier to bear," he said.

"It should improve the prospects of treatment for certain categories of patient, and I am looking forward to evaluating it."

This is only the latest robot-assisted breakthrough to be launched in the UK - other systems help surgeons carry out delicate keyhole operations through tiny openings in the skin.

See also:

09 Aug 01 | Health
Robotic prostate surgery launched
12 Mar 00 | Health
Robot reduces spinal surgery risk
02 Feb 00 | Health
Heart surgeons use robot hands
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