First-ever robot “supermicrosurgery” performed successfully

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Robotic technology has played an important part in the medical field in the last two decades. The best example in this regard is the Da Vinci system, which is considered the best-selling surgery robot on the market today. This robot can perform high-precision surgical procedures — down to one millimeter. However, the system comes with a hefty price tag of $2 million, plus the expensive maintenance costs.

For those of you who don’t know supermicrosurgery refers to a precise reconstructive procedure that connects ultra-thin blood and lymph vessels ranging from 0.3 to 0.8 millimeters. Due to the highly precise nature of the surgery, it is only performed by a few highly skilled surgeons around the World.

Researchers at the Dutch startup Microsure — an offshoot of Eindhoven University of Technology and Maastricht University Medical Centre, have now developed the world’s first clinically available CE-certified surgical robot for microsurgery. Dubbed as MUSA, the surgeon controlled robot translates their hand movements into precise robotic actions.

“The robot allows us to operate on minuscule lymph vessels and blood vessels while getting better results for these complex and exhausting procedures. With the Microsure robot, we can operate on vessels of all sizes, which is extremely handy. This, of course, is great news for patients,” said Dr Shan Shan Qiu Shao, Plastic Surgeon.

The idea behind the invention was to reduce human errors caused by factors like shaky hands during surgical procedures. MUSA was first tested last Septemeber, suturing a set of thin blood vessels in the patient’s arm. The initial success has now been followed up in a more extensive study of 20 female patients with lymphedema — a condition related to breast cancer in which excess fluid collects in tissues, causing swelling.

Researchers split the patients into two groups — one receiving manual surgery and the other one operated upon with the help of the robotic system MUSA. The surgeries were intended to relieve symptoms by connecting lymph vessels to nearby veins, thus bypassing the affected area.

MUSA is controlled by foot pedals where the table-mounted system is controlled by a surgeon using forceps-like joysticks. It not only cancels out small tremors but scales down hand movements significantly — as an example, if the surgeon moves one of the joysticks by one centimeter, the robot arm moves only one-tenth of a millimeter.

Although the main purpose of the trial was to prove the safety & feasibility of the robotic system, which it did, the results at one-month & three-month intervals also showed that MUSA treated patients recovered a little more quickly than manual surgeries.

This could be a groundbreaking invention for the future of precision-based supermicrosurgeries, once larger multi-center trials can verify the results.

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