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Monday, May 19, 2008

Calgary woman recovering after robotic arm removes brain tumour

Last Updated: Friday, May 16, 2008 | 5:17 PM ET
Dr. Garnette Sutherland of the University of Calgary reviews the groundbreaking surgery by a robotic arm to remove a woman's brain tumour.Dr. Garnette Sutherland of the University of Calgary reviews the groundbreaking surgery by a robotic arm to remove a woman's brain tumour. (CBC)

A surgical team in Calgary on Friday extolled the virtues of using a robotic arm to perform groundbreaking surgery to remove a woman's brain tumour.

Paige Nickason, 21, was discharged from the Foothills Medical Centre after surgery Monday by Dr. Garnette Sutherland of the University of Calgary.

"Paige's brain surgery represents a technical achievement in the use of image-guided robotic technology to remove a relatively complex brain tumour," Sutherland told a press conference.

"This is wonderful and represents the beginning of something new in surgical care," he said.

"I had to have the tumour removed anyway, so I was happy to help by being a part of this historical surgery," Nickason said in a press release on Friday.

Mimic surgeon's movements

The two mechanical hands of the robot, known as NeuroArm, mimic the movements of the surgeon with incredible precision while sensors and microphones recreate the sights, sounds and touch of surgery.

A surgeon is able to control the robot using levers at a computer workstation in a room next to the surgery. Sutherland said human ability to manipulate robotic surgery techniques can be credited, at least in part, to the explosion in popularity of video games.

"We would all agree that our young children who have become immersed in video games represent the future generation of surgeons," he said. "[They] will be experienced in the integration of hand controllers with images and …will have enhanced hand-eye co-ordination with highly developed spatial orientation."

The technology works in conjunction with real-time magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to provide surgeons with unprecedented detail and the control to manipulate tools at a microscopic scale for operations ranging from repairs of blood vessels to removal of brain tumours.

Precision, accuracy, dexterity improving

Microsurgical techniques that evolved in the 1960s have pushed surgeons to the limits of their precision, accuracy, dexterity and stamina, Sutherland said in April, with the world's best surgeons being able to get within three millimetres of the mark.

The arm was designed and built in collaboration with engineers at MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, known for creating Canadarm and Canadarm2 for NASA.