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Robot lends Helsinki surgeons a helping hand during first brain surgery trial on Parkinson’s patient

Surgeons at Töölö Hospital were assisted by a robot as they inserted four catheters into the brain of a patient with Parkinson’s disease to deliver a newly-developed drug.

Robotin avulla tehtävä aivoleikkaus.
The borrowed robot was used to precisely position the tools required for the operation. Image: Kari Ahotupa / Yle

Surgeons at Helsinki’s Töölö Hospital performed an unprecedented procedure with the assistance of a robot on Tuesday afternoon.

During the operation the surgeons and robot worked together to implant four catheters into the brain of an elderly patient suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

The catheters will be used to administer doses of a medication specially developed to treat the condition.

It was the first time that a robot – borrowed from the UK for the purpose -- was used in brain surgery in Finland.

“This is very new in this field,” said neurosurgery specialist Riku Kivisaari of Helsinki University Central Hospital.

During the operation, physicians drilled holes in the patient’s skull to install the catheters deep in the brain. Kivisaari said that the procedure required a high degree of precision.

Story continues after photo.

Robotin avulla tehtävä aivoleikkaus Töölön sairaalassa.
The robot did not create any incisions. Image: Kari Ahotupa / Yle

“Careful planning was essential. The difficulty lay in the fact that there were many different small stages where everything had to be just right, not almost,” he added.

Story continues after photo.

Neurokirurgi Riku Kivisaari ja robotin laitteen kehittäjä Stephen Gill.
Neurosurgeon Riku Kivisaari (left) and developer of the robot Stephen Gill study their next move. Image: Kari Ahotupa / Yle

“The robot itself didn’t do any cutting, but it guided all of the tools so that they were positioned in the right place as far as possible.”

Tuesday’s procedure also scored another breakthrough as a drug developed by the hospital’s biotechnology institute was tested for the first time.

Previous animal tests showed that the drug succeeded in slowing down the progress of the disease and relieving some of its symptoms. The year-long trial will determine whether or not it will also be effective in humans suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Helsinki hospital officials will be able to use the borrowed robot until the end of the year. It is not yet known whether or not Finland will acquire a similar robot of its own.

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