• KU Leuven
    Comprehensive Ophthalmology, Retina/Vitreous

    Surgeons in Belgium have successfully operated on a patient with retinal vein occlusion using a surgical robot.

    The procedure was performed for the first time earlier this month as part of a phase 1 trial in which a robot used a specially developed 0.03-mm needle to inject Ocriplasmin into the patient’s retinal vein.

    “The current treatment for retinal vein occlusion costs society €32,000 per eye,” says Professor Peter Stalmans, eye surgeon at University Hospitals Leuven. “This is a high price tag, considering that you’re only treating the side effects and that there is little more you can do than avoid reducing eyesight. The robotic device finally enables us to treat the cause of the thrombosis in the retina. I look forward to what is next: if we succeed, we will literally be able to make blind people see again.”

    Seven years in the making, the robot was developed to assist in the development of retinal vein cannulation, a surgical technique that requires a surgeon to insert an ultrathin needle into a vein the width of a human hair while holding the needle perfectly still for 10 minutes.

    Unlike most surgical robots, the surgeon and the robot co-manipulate the instrument, which eliminates the need for a joystick.

    The surgeon guides the needle into the vein while the robot eliminates any needle vibration, increasing the level of precision more than tenfold. After locking the robot, the needle and the eye are automatically stabilized, allowing the surgeon to proceed with the injection in a controlled manner.

    A phase 2 trial will evaluate the clinical effects of the procedure.