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Robot to be used in brain surgery

10 September, 2001

Neurosurgeons in Nottingham will soon be using a robot to assist them in complex surgical procedures.

Modern medical scanners enable surgeons to identify areas in the brain where a surgical intervention is needed. PathFinder, the world’s first intelligent robot for image-guided surgery, developed by Armstrong Healthcare, provides surgeons with a way of guiding instruments very precisely to the chosen site. This means that even tiny structures deep inside the brain can be accessed reliably, with minimal damage to surrounding tissue.

Examples of ways in which Pathfinder might be used in the future include the treatment of brain tumours, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. The surgeon instructs the PathFinder robot by marking a target and an approach path on the patient’s scan. PathFinder carries a camera that automatically matches the scanner image to the position of the patient’s head on the operating table.

The surgeon makes a tiny hole at the entry point in the skull, and PathFinder then very gently advances an instrument through the hole to the chosen target.

PathFinder has been under development for several years by Armstrong and is about to start a programme of clinical trials at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham. Following extensive testing and regulatory approval, it will shortly be used to help surgeons there in live operations.

Paul Byrne, a consultant neurosurgeon at Queens Medical Centre said:

"This development is a step forward in surgery, and should make difficult operations easier to bear. It should improve the prospects of treatment for certain categories of patient, and I am looking forward to evaluating it."