Robot-assisted brain surgery a world first

A team from the Krembil Brain Institute at Toronto Western Hospital has performed the world’s first robot-assisted brain surgery on a live patient.

The team, led by Dr. Vitor Mendes Pereira, a neurosurgeon and neuroradiologist, and assisted by Drs. Timo Krings and Patrick Nicholson, neuroradiologists, completed the two-and-a-half-hour procedure to treat a brain aneurysm in a 64-year-old female patient.

The first step was done as normal, with a catheter inserted through an incision in the leg. Then, from several metres away, Dr. Pereira operated the robot, which carried the catheter into the patient’s brain and placed a stent and 14 coils, preventing blood from flowing to the aneurysm and isolating it from the rest of the brain.

“This machine can do what we do with four hands,” says Dr. Pereira.

The patient, whose identity is being kept private, is now in recovery. “I can’t believe how lucky I am,” she says. “I’m living proof that such procedures are possible through robotics.”

This world-first procedure has great implications for the future of neurovascular disease treatment. Neurovascular disease, defined as abnormalities of the blood vessels within the brain or spine, can lead to dangerous, and often deadly, conditions such as stroke. Treatment of the delicate vessels in the brain and spine require precision as a key element of the procedure, and robotic assistance provides a level of precision that will have a positive impact on patients.

In addition, the use of robotic assistance can increase access to the standard of care for neurovascular disease. The complexity and precision of treatment requires very specialized expertise, which means that it is not accessible in more remote areas of Canada. If hospitals had the robotic machines installed and a bedside technician employed, surgeons could perform the procedure from anywhere in the world.

“I felt honoured to perform this procedure and look forward to continuing to support the development of robotic technology to help address access issues of stroke patients in the community,” says Dr. Pereira.

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