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Robot surgery pioneer receives professorship at Imperial College

For Immediate Use
30 January 2002

The worlds first Professor of Medical Robotics delivers his Inaugural lecture today at Imperial College, London*1.

Pioneer of a host of medical robots including the first clinical use of a robot to actively remove tissue from a patient, Professor Brian Davies will deliver his Inaugural lecture entitled Robotic Surgery: at the Cutting Edge of Technology on Wednesday 30 January.

Tracing his career from an interest in engineering which began at 14 and led to an apprenticeship and job with General Electric before moving to University College London, Professor Davies will describe how he began by researching robotics, powered prosthetics and aids for the disabled.

"My interest in medical robotics started with research into hydraulic powered prostheses for thalidomide victims back in the early 70s, after researching a miniature hydraulic power pack for my Masters degree," he says. This work led to the development of simple medical manipulators as a feeding aid for disabled people.

He moved to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College in 1983 as Senior Lecturer, and in 1985 began a Department of Trade and Industry feasibility study into a neurology robot. Two years later he joined up with the Director of the Institute of Urology in London, Mr John Wickham, on a project to design a robot for urology operations.

Preliminary work with Dr Roger Hibberd, also of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial, led to the world's first clinical use of a robot to actively remove tissue from a patient in 1991.

PROBOT carried out what is called a 'Transurethral Resection of the Prostate', where an enlarged prostate gland that is obstructing urine flow is cut back. The operation was carried out under the direction of Mr Anthony Timoney, now Consultant Urologist at South Mead Hospital, Bristol.

A request to research a robot for knee surgery followed, which nearly ten years later in 2001, resulted in the first clinical implementation of a new 'hands-on' robot called ACROBOT. The research, in collaboration with Mr Justin Cobb, an orthopaedic surgeon at University College Hospitals NHS Trust, has also led to the formation of a spin-off company, the Acrobot Co Ltd.

Different types of surgery pose different challenges to the robot builder. Orthopaedic surgery is slightly easier than soft tissue surgery, Prof Davies explains, as the bone can generally be locked in place and treated as a fixed object. "Unlike soft tissue it does not tend to move and change shape when prodded or cut," he says.

Describing the engineers relationship and interaction with surgeons he often spends time in operating theatres watching his robots carry out their work.

"Working with clinicians is often challenging, as the training systems are very different," he says. "In order to check that the robot system being researched is appropriate and relevant it is usually necessary to see a number of operations, carried out by different surgeons and iteratively develop the specification as a result of discussions with the consultants."

Concluding with a vision for the future of medical robotics, he says:

"I would like to see miniature and micro-miniature robots being used for minimally invasive surgery. This implies that the cutting forces, or other interventional actions, would need to be small and precise, as well as the robot actuation systems. It will require considerable innovation to achieve reliable small working devices."

Professor Davies, 62, is also Chair of the Medical Engineering Division of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Sponsors of his work include the DTI, Department of Health, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the European Community and a number of small charity funds.

Industrial support has come from companies supplying minimally invasive surgical tools and prostheses manufacturers, as well as the Acrobot Ltd.

For further information please contact:

Professor Brian Davies
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Faculty of Engineering
Imperial College, London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 7054

Tom Miller
Imperial College Press Office
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6704
Mob: +44 (0)7803 886248

Notes to Editors:

1. Inaugural lectures are given by new professors to inform a general audience of their own academic research and specialism.

In the Chair will be Professor Roderick Smith, FREng, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, and delivering the Vote of Thanks is Mr Justin P. Cobb, FRCS, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, UCL Hospitals NHS Trust.

2. Projects the Mechatronics in Medicine laboratory is tackling include:

The PROBOT - Robotic System for Prostate Surgery
The Acrobot - Robotic Knee Surgery
The Roboscope - Minimally Invasive Endo-Neurosurgery
The Bloodbot - for taking blood
Telemanipulator Assisted Surgery
Minimally Invasive Surgery
Robotic Colonoscopy
Safety of Robotic and Computer Assisted Surgery
High Intensity Focused Ultrasound for Neurosurgery
Generalised Problems of Imaging and Modelling for Robotic Surgery

The Mechatronics in Medicine Laboratory aims to develop devices, both passive and active, as tools to enable surgery to be carried out faster, more safely or more accurately than it can be using standard methods.

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