HKU team invents brain-surgery robot

Local | Stella Wong 14 Jun 2018

Researchers have invented the first-ever robot system that can perform brain surgery inside a magnetic resonance imaging scanner.

The remarkable invention by a University of Hong Kong mechanical engineering team boosts the accuracy and efficiency of surgeries to address Parkinson's disease, brain tumors and depression.

The robot system consists of a liquid-driven actuation, a dual-arm manipulator for needle insertion, and wireless trackers.

During the operation, surgeons will be able to locate the target area with real-time imaging, before implanting the electrodes accurately. The electrodes will send signals to the affected area, and restore normal cell activity.

Danny Chan Tat-ming, a consultant at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's department of surgery, said the invention has changed the concept of the entire procedure as pre-operation MRI scans have been replaced with real-time scans to locate the affected area.

"It's direct targeting which has overcome one major problem - error in targeting the position," Chan said.

He explained that when a surgeon opens a patient's brain, cerebral fluid will leak out, leading to a change in the initial location of the target. But the new invention allows surgeons to observe a real-time image of the brain under the scanner. The invention also reduces the patient's discomfort.

A surgeon currently needs the patient to be awake under local anesthesia during surgery, as interaction with the patient is needed to ensure no errors are committed with the electrode placement.

Chan said patients have to overcome psychologically the situation as "people are drilling a hole in your head while you are awake."

Using the robot, surgeons can now conduct the operation while patients are under general anesthesia. As a result, they won't feel any pain throughout the procedure.

Robot systems now used in foreign countries will cause interference to the scanner while it is operating.

Guo Zi-yan, first author of the project paper and a PhD student at HKU's mechanical engineering program, said the situation is similar to "stopping while driving every time you need to use GPS."

Poon Wai-sang, a professor at CUHK's department of surgery, said the invention "definitely brings a big improvement."

Kwok Ka-wai, an assistant professor at HKU's Mechanical Engineering department and the project team leader, said the invention is currently at a pre-clinical stage.

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