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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 August, 2004, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Robot-assisted kidney transplants
Image of robotic surgery
The robot is controlled by the operating surgeon
UK surgeons plan to use a robot to carry out key-hole kidney transplants for the first time.

Surgeons at London's Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital have already used the 1million da Vinci robot to carry out prostate and bladder surgery.

They will now learn from experienced US surgeons how to use the robot to operate on the kidney.

The robot's pencil-sized probes translate the surgeon's hand movements, allowing precision work without tremor.

The surgeon sits a few feet away from the operating table at a control station.

Movements translated

His hands are strapped with Velcro to joysticks that control the robotic 'fingers', which carry out the same movements.

The surgeon watches the progress of the operation in 3D on high-resolution TV screens linked to miniature cameras on the robot.

The robot adjusts itself to compensate for the natural tremor in the human hand, and can be set to make the tiniest movements with rock-steady precision.

This should allow the operation to be carried out through a much smaller incision, in theory improving recovery time for the patient.

Surgeons from Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital will travel to the US to receive training before performing the kidney transplant in October.

Mr Prokar Dasgupta, the surgeon running the project, has already used the robot to treat patients with urinary tract problems.

image of the da Vinci robot
The robot's tiny probes allow precision surgery

"It's a fabulous instrument.

"It's the most accurate of its kind in medical robotics.

"The current technique runs on the principle of big surgeons making big cuts.

"The robot is a step ahead because you can do the whole job through key holes.

"The robot wrists are like human wrists except they are only 7mm in size and they can move in any direction who you can reach difficult corners and cut in a more precise manner."

This means the patient has less blood loss and a quicker recovery, he said.

Although the robot moves slower than the human hand, its accuracy means operating times tend to be the same or quicker, said Mr Dasgupta.

"And although it's very expensive initially, the global costs are less because there are major savings from the patients going home earlier and so on," he said.

Mr Dasgupta believes it will be used for other surgical procedures in the future.

The da Vinci robot is made by Intuitive Surgical in the US.

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