Doctors in Birmingham, UK, have carried out the first operation with a smart robotic micro-drill. The surgical drilling robot was developed by Peter Brett from the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Aston University and tested in cochlear implant surgery by Mr David Proops, Ear, nose and throat consultant surgeon at University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.
The drill is applied to the cochlea in the inner ear, aligned to the correct place and then drills a hole less than a millimetre in diameter to enable the cochlear implant to be inserted.
When working with a traditional surgical drill using a microscope, the drill tip will perforate the surface of the inner flexible bony tissue interface of the cochlea with the inner membrane, and protrude into the space. Using the robotic micro-drill, the device senses when the drill tip is approaching this tissue interface. It is then able to avoid penetrating the membrane, so that no drilling or other debris drops into the ear.
It is expected that this more precise means of drilling will lead to improved hearing for the patient following implantation.
To date the drill has been tested on three human patients – all with successful outcomes. It drills a perfect hole, the perfect size, in the perfect place and to a perfect depth.
The drill is currently only being used for cochlear implants, but the developers say it has the potential to be applied in a far wider range of microsurgery applications.