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Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 12:48 GMT


Robot transforms surgery

The surgeon controls the robot from a distance

A computerised robot could make many surgical procedures easier to perform.

It has been used to perform operations on patients who would otherwise require major open-heart surgery.

The robot, which could supercede keyhole surgery techniques, is currently being tested in Belgium.

It is much more adaptable than keyhole surgery, which often restrict the surgeon's hand movements.

The surgeon controls the robot from a distance - he does not even need to be in the same room, and could even be thousands of miles away.

His hand movements are transferred through delicate computerised arms.

[ image: Dr Hugo Vanerman says operations could be carried out from thousands of miles away]
Dr Hugo Vanerman says operations could be carried out from thousands of miles away
Heart surgeon Dr Hugo Vanerman, said: "If you want to do cardiac surgery through keyholes - that is to say holes as big as a pencil - there is no way you can do that on a tiny coronary vessel that is 1.5mm wide.

"You have to have much better, computer-enhanced instruments.

"The robot allows us to use these instruments with a computer interface."

Patient Marina Verstreep underwent cardiac surgery to correct a congenital heart defect using the new technique.

Just hours after undergoing surgery, she said: "I feel fine. It hurts a little, but they say that is normal. I can go home tomorrow."

Tremendously exciting

[ image: Eve Knight gave a cautious welcome]
Eve Knight gave a cautious welcome
Eve Knight, of the British Cardiac Patients' Association, said: "It is tremendously exciting.

"Anything that is going to improve technique and means that cardiac patients don't have to go through conventional open heart procedures of opening up the chest - less trauma, less pain, less time in hospital - is always very welcome.

"But I think it is all too easy to get carried away by new, innovative techniques before they have been properly evaluated."

Minimally invasive surgery is not new, but in cardiac terms it has a long way to go."

The new equipment is unlikely, however, to be made widely available in the NHS - each robot costs almost £1m.

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