A brand new machine is making it a whole lot easier for eye surgeons to perform cataract surgery. This new robot, which operates using micro-scale movements, was developed by the UK-based Cambridge Consultants Cambridge Consultants. This robot has two very tiny arms with even smaller pincers on top of them to perform the intricate procedure of removing cataracts.
This new robot is called Axsis, and it was designed to take away the risk often associated with a surgeon using his/her own hands during a cataract procedure. Axsis' pincers have been estimated to go across a space 10-millimetres in length, which is roughly the size of one eye's lens. Although it may look small and scrawny, this device is also quite powerful. Designers actually used material similar to that used in NASA's solar sails in Axsis' "tendons."
Cataract surgery is actually one of the most common surgical procedures done all around the globe. It is currently estimated that 20 million people around the world undergo cataract surgery annually.
For those who do not know, cataracts form in the eyes' lenses and start to obscure a patient's' vision over time. A person generally notices cataracts after they have been in the lens for a few months or years. Vision becomes gradually cloudier and hazier.
Nowadays, surgeons work to treat this by cutting a hole in the patient's lens and pulling out the cloudy bits. Once the cloudy cataracts are pulled out, the surgeon then inserts a permanent clear plastic contact lens to help the person see clearly again.
Since this surgery requires such a precise and steady hand, although rarely, sometimes surgeons can puncture the back of a patient's lens by accident. Surgeons estimate that cutting into the back of a patient's lens happens in between 0.1-0.7 percent of cases. The Axsis was designed to avoid this complication completely.
A surgeon using the Axsis can operate this robot sitting behind their computer monitor. The computer screen will show a complete image of the patient's eye, and all the surgeon has to do is use the 3D haptic joysticks to move the robot's pincers to where he/she needs them. Also, this robot's technology is programmed with certain boundaries to avoid puncturing the back of the lens.
Thanks to the Axsis' smaller size, this machine will be both more convenient and cheap for practicing surgeons around the world. Some hospitals currently have access to surgical robots like the Da Vinci system, but these robots tend to be bulkier and more costly than the Axsis.
Also, Axsis is set to be the first surgical robot on the market to deal exclusively with cataract surgery. The only other surgical robot that comes close to Axsis in recent times is a robotic system made by the Dutch-based Preceyes Medical Robotics. The robot Preceyes is currently testing at Oxford University's John Radcliffe Hospital, however, deals only with the retina.
The designers of Axsis are very hopeful that their device will significantly reduce the rate of complications experienced from cataract surgery. They also hope the Axsis can be used in the future for certain gastrointestinal surgical procedures. One of the major applications this team is working on for the Axsis is removing polyps in the colon.