Robotic surgery breakthrough

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Professor Sanja Dogramadzi, from Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), University of the West of England, has led the development of a ground-breaking robotic system that enables surgeons to put joint fractures back together using a minimally invasive approach. Supported by an underpinning EPSRC investment, it is the first robot-assisted system designed to deal with this problem. 

  • Ground-breaking robotic system enables surgeons to put joint fractures back together using a minimally invasive approach
  • Technology combines state-of-the-art 3D imaging, pattern recognition and robotic surgery
  • Will ultimately lead to less onerous surgery; perfect fragment re-alignment; improved patient outcomes; and significantly reduced NHS costs 

Working alongside Professor Roger Atkins, an orthopaedic surgeon at University Hospital Bristol, and MATOrtho®, a UK leading medical device company, Professor Dogramadzi received funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to refine the system.

Broken bones that involve joints cause considerable disability and substantial NHS costs. To work properly and avoid painful arthritis, the pieces of the joint must be put back together perfectly. Surgeons do this by making a large incision to open up the area around the joint and see the broken bits. These wounds cause pain, scarring and infection risk and long hospital stays.

The Bristol team’s surgical system combines state-of-the-art 3D imaging, pattern recognition and robotics. It begins with CT scans of healthy and fractured joints. These are ‘interpreted’ by a mathematical algorithm which works out the exact displacement and rotation needed for each fragment to be put back together in exactly the right place. The solution to this 3D puzzle is the starting point for the minimally invasive surgical robotic system that repositions the fragments under the surgeon’s supervision.

Professor Dogramadzi says: “This collaboration is all about taking the latest advances in technology and using them in a real application which will have direct benefits to patients.

“By working closely with surgeons we have been able to design a workable system which will function within the constraints of real surgery and meet the needs of patients. The robots we are developing will enhance the work of surgeons by carrying out complex tasks suited to robots, while the surgeon stays in control and makes the decisions essential to the success of the surgery.

“Ultimately the system allows for earlier and less onerous surgery; reliable, perfect fragment re-alignment; improved patient outcomes; faster rehabilitation; reduced hospital stays; earlier return to work; fewer complications; arthritis avoidance; and significantly reduced NHS costs. 

Bristol Robotics Laboratory is a collaborative partnership between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol.

The underpinning research and creation of the prototype system was funded by EPSRC and developed in collaboration with Simpleware Ltd, a pioneer of 3D computer modelling software formed in 2003 to bring to market EPSRC-funded research by Professor Philippe Young at the University of Exeter.