April 29, 2010

Doctors Complete First Remote-Control Heart Operation

British doctors have successfully completed the first remote-controlled heart operation, using a robot to help correct a patient's irregular heart rhythm in less than an hour.

The operation was performed by Andre Ng, a consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist at Leicester's Glenfield Hospital. Ng used a robotic arm known as the Catheter Robotics Remote Catheter Manipulation System to guide a thin tube into the veins in the heart to remove problematic tissues, thus eliminating the surgeon's exposure to X-rays.

"It exceeded our expectations and we achieved what we set out to in very good time," Dr. Ng told Reuters Health and Science Correspondent Kate Kelland on Wednesday, adding that he was "relaxed" and that being able to perform the procedure while seated and without a protective lead coat "was actually a very pleasurable experience."

According to a press release put out Wednesday morning, prior to the surgery, the remote procedure involved "inserting thin wires, called catheters, into blood vessels at the top of the groin and advanced into the heart chambers. Electrodes on the catheters record and stimulate different regions of the heart to help the doctor identify the cause of the heart rhythm problem which usually involves an abnormality in the electrical wiring system of the heart. Once this area is identified, one of the catheters will be placed at the location to ablate or 'burn' the tissue to cure the problem."

Furthermore, Dr. Ng, who had previously called the procedure "an important step forward" because it limited a surgeon's exposure to radiation, saying it opened up a new world of possibilities.

"I think it would certainly be possible in future to do this from another city, or further away," he told Kelland. "All that's required is a reliable link between your remote controller, where the operator is, and the robotic arm, where the patient is"¦ If there is a reliable enough link, then you could do it from any location in the world."


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