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Friday, Sept. 21, 2001

First ever surgery employing remote robots is performed


Staff writer

The age of automated, computer-controlled surgery came closer than ever this week with the report that surgeons in New York successfully used remote-controlled robots to remove the gall bladder of a patient in France. The procedure, performed on a 68-year-old woman in Strasbourg, was the world's first long-distance operation on a human.

Led by Jacques Marescaux of the IRCAD European Institute of Telesurgery in France, the transoceanic operation lasted under an hour. The control console was linked to the robots via a high-speed optical-fiber network relaying information through dedicated connections.

The telesurgery technique was first used to remove pigs' gall bladders. Two surgeons in Strasbourg set up the robotic system, which could be deactivated if necessary during the procedure. In New York, another two surgeons directed the robots while a third monitored the video link.

Data traveling between the two locations made a round-trip of over 14,000 km. Due to the time taken for the transfer and video-coding of data, the surgeons' movements appeared on their screens with a delay of around 155 milliseconds, within the surgeon's time safety zone of 330 ms.

This improved technology should remove geographical constraints on specialized surgery as well as improve surgical training, say the researchers. It took 16 minutes to set up the robotic system and 54 minutes to dissect the gall bladder. The patient -- who had given informed consent for the operation after the surgeons had obtained ethical approval -- was discharged 48 hours later. The report of the operation appears in this week's issue of the journal Nature.



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