This Robotic Device Is Small Enough to Operate on the Human Eye

22 December, 2016

A newly-built machine uses extremely small instruments to perform eye operations.

The machine is reported to make fewer mistakes than doctors.

Robots are already used to perform some relatively simple operations like a hysterectomy, when a doctor removes a woman's uterus. But operating on the eye is more difficult than those kinds of surgeries.

A cataract is a condition that many people develop as they get older. It makes the lens of the eye appear cloudy, making it more difficult for the patient to see. Doctors can remove cataracts through surgery.

One of the difficult parts of that surgery is getting close to the lens. The doctor has to work very carefully next to the capsule of the lens, without breaking it.

That is where Axsis technology comes in.

Axsis is one of the smallest robots for surgical use. It is the size of a soft drink can. The robot is equipped with instruments measuring only 1.8 millimeters in length.

A company called Cambridge Consultants developed the Axsis system. Chris Wagner is its head of advanced surgical systems. He says Axsis could help patients in need of corrective eye surgery.

Wagner says the company's robotics product can help with this "extremely sensitive part of the operation" of getting close to the lens without breaking it. He says with robotics, and guidance and imaging during the operation, one can see where the robot is, and see where the lens is, along with other important body parts.

All of the machine's operating parts are inside the device, he says. This is different from traditional surgical robots that operate on a long straight instrument.

Wagner says the joints have been moved inside, "so no arm is swinging around... and no arm motion has to conflict with another robot arm."

Critics say cataract surgery is not very difficult, and the new machine may not be needed. But Wagner believes it shows that such small robotic devices could be used in many other ways.

"I think the fact that it's a 1.8 millimeter diameter robot that's operating on the size scale of the eye is exciting. This just opens the door to a number of different types of procedures that you can do that previously weren't possible."

That means the device could be used for treatments that require more attention to detail than human hands can provide.

I'm Anne Ball.

VOA's Kevin Enochs reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

surgery – n. medical treatment in which a doctor cuts into someone's body in order to repair or remove damaged or diseased parts

capsule n. a part of the eye lens

diameter n. the distance through the center of something from one side to the other

scale n. a range of levels of something from lowest to highest; the size or level of something especially in comparison to