The robot arm can be operated from another room
World-leading heart surgery has been carried out at a Leicester hospital by surgeons using a remote-controlled robot arm.
Surgeons working to correct a "short circuit" in a patient's heart controlled the device from a separate room, saving them exposure to X-rays.
A thin tube was guided through veins to the heart to burn off "rogue" tissue.
Dr Andre Ng, who carried out the procedure at Glenfield Hospital, said the robot arm can be more accurate.
Usually the surgeon conducting the operation stands by the patient's bed shielded from the X-rays by a heavy lead apron.
The robot, which attaches to the bed, allows the whole operation to be conducted remotely from a separate room. The surgeon views the X-ray images on a screen while controlling the catheter unencumbered.
Precise movements are possible, allowing highly accurate targeting of the treated tissue.
The patient, a 70-year-old man from Burton-upon-Trent, had been brought to the hospital with an atrial heart flutter.
The disorder causes the heart's atrial chambers to contract in very rapid but weak beats, preventing blood from being pumped efficiently to vital organs.
After the procedure, the condition was completely cured.
Dr Ng, consultant cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital and senior lecturer in cardiovascular sciences at the University of Leicester, said: "The new robotic procedure is an important step forward because, while some procedures are straightforward, others can take several hours.
"Because X-rays are used to allow the doctor to monitor what is going on inside the patient, it means that doctors standing close to the patient wear radiation shields such as lead aprons which are burdensome. Protracted procedures can lead to clinician fatigue and high cumulative radiation exposure.
"The benefit of the robotics system to the patient is that movement of the catheter could be done with great precision. It is anticipated that further developments of the system may allow complex procedures to be made more streamlined."
The Remote Catheter Manipulation System, from Catheter Robotics Inc of New Jersey, US, has been in development for four years.
The Leicester team is the first in the world to use it in human patients.
Dr Ng is a world-leading expert in the management of heart rhythm disturbances.
His department at Glenfield Hospital performs more than 600 of the catheter procedures each year.