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Robotic arm to conduct brain surgery

April 18, 2007
Courtesy University of Calgary
and World Science staff

A ro­bot to be in­stalled at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­ga­ry in Can­a­da is to con­duct brain surg­eries in tan­dem with real-time brain scans cap­tured by Mag­net­ic Res­o­nance Im­ag­ing.

The ro­bot, dubbed Neu­ro­Arm, “aims to rev­o­lu­tion­ize neu­ro­sur­gery,” the uni­ver­sity said in a state­ment.

Sutherland and the neuroarm. (Photo by Ken Bediktsen) 


Billed as the first sur­gi­cal ro­bot com­pat­ible with the ad­vanced imaging tech­nol­o­gy, it’s the cre­a­tion of neu­ro­sur­geon Gar­nette Suth­er­land of the uni­ver­si­ty. He spent six years lead­ing a team of Ca­na­di­an sci­en­tists to de­sign it. 

“Many of our mi­cro­sur­gi­cal tech­niques evolved in the 1960s, and have pushed sur­geons to the lim­its of their pre­ci­sion, ac­cu­ra­cy, dex­ter­i­ty and stami­na,” said Suth­er­land. “Neu­ro­Arm dra­ma­t­i­cal­ly en­hances the spa­tial res­o­lu­tion at which sur­geons op­er­ate, and shifts sur­gery from the or­gan to­wards the cell lev­el.”

“The best sur­geons in the world can work with­in an eighth of an inch. Neu­ro­Arm makes it pos­si­ble for sur­geons to work ac­cu­rate­ly with­in the width of a hair,” said Doc Sea­man, a Cal­ga­ry phi­lan­thro­pist who do­nat­ed to the proj­ect along with two broth­ers. 

De­signed to be con­trolled by a sur­geon from a com­put­er work­sta­tion, neu­ro­Arm gives sur­geons un­prec­e­dent­ed con­trol, en­a­bling them to ma­ni­pu­late tools at a mi­cro­scop­ic scale, re­search­ers said. Sur­gi­cal test­ing is cur­rent­ly un­der­way. The first pa­tient is an­ti­ci­pated for this sum­mer at Cal­ga­ry’s Foothills Hos­pi­tal, site of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­ga­ry med­i­cal school’s re­search fa­cil­i­ty.

De­vel­op­ing neu­ro­Arm re­quired an in­ter­na­tion­al col­labo­ra­tion of health pro­fes­sion­als, phys­i­cists, elec­tri­cal, soft­ware, op­ti­cal and me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neers to build a ro­bot that could work safe­ly in a sur­gi­cal suite and with­in the strong mag­net­ic field of the Mag­net­ic Res­o­nance ma­chine, ex­perts said.

Suth­er­land’s team is de­vel­op­ing pro­grams with the uni­ver­si­ty and the Cal­ga­ry Health Re­gion, one of Can­a­da’s larg­est health sys­tems, to train sur­geons to use neu­ro­Arm. Many oth­er sur­gi­cal dis­ci­plines have and con­tin­ue to par­ti­ci­pate in ap­ply­ing neu­roArm to var­i­ous types of sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures, the re­search­ers said.

“We’re not just build­ing a ro­bot, we’re build­ing a med­i­cal ro­botics pro­gram,” Suth­er­land said. “We want the neu­ro­Arm tech­nol­o­gy to be trans­lated in­to the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty, i.e. hos­pi­tals around the world.”


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A robot to be installed at the University of Calgary in Canada is to conduct brain surgeries in tandem with real-time brain scans of patients, captured by Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The robot, dubbed NeuroArm, “aims to revolutionize neurosurgery,” hospital officials said in a statement. The world’s first robot compat ible with the advanced brain-imaging technology, it’s the creation of neurosurgeon Garnette Sutherland of the university, who spent six years leading a team of Canadian scientists to design it. “Many of our microsurgical techniques evolved in the 1960s, and have pushed surgeons to the limits of their precision, accuracy, dexterity and stamina,” said Sutherland. “NeuroArm dramatically enhances the spatial resolution at which surgeons operate, and shifts surgery from the organ towards the cell level.” “The best surgeons in the world can work within an eighth of an inch. NeuroArm makes it possible for surgeons to work accurately within the width of a hair,” said Doc Seaman, a Calgary philanthropist who donated to the project along with two brothers. Designed to be controlled by a surgeon from a computer workstation, neuroArm gives surgeons unprecedented detail and control, enabling them to mani pulate tools at a microscopic scale, researchers said. Surgical testing is currently underway. The first patient is anti cipated for this summer at Calgary’s Foothills Hospital, site of the University of Calgary medical school’s research facility. Developing neuroArm required an inter national collabo ration of health professionals, physicists, electrical, software, optical and mechanical engineers to build a robot that could work safely in a surgical suite and within the strong magnetic field of the Magnetic Resonance machine, experts said. Sutherland’s team is developing programs with the university and the Calgary Health Region, one of Canada’s largest health systems, to train surgeons to use neuroArm. Many other surgical disciplines have and continue to partici pate in applying neuroArm to various types of surgical procedures, the researchers said. “We’re not just building a robot, we’re building a medical robotics program,” Sutherland said. “We want the neuroArm technology to be translated into the global community, i.e. hospitals around the world.”