China uses 5G robot to do remote eye surgery from 350 miles

Chinese doctors conducted this remote surgery on rabbits from over 350 miles away using a 5G robot.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image
Representational image

FG Trade/iStock 

Chinese doctors were able to conduct a remote surgery on rabbits from over 350 miles (585 kilometers) away using a 5G robot. The rabbits were present at the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, whereas the surgical team operated on them via a 5G robot from the Hainan Eye Hospital at the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center in Haikou, Hainan province.

The 5G robot was developed in-house by a team of doctors and scientists.

The surgeries took place on June 23, and after a month of operation, the university reported that all the 12 rabbits are in stable condition, according to China Daily. The team of doctors has also conducted similar surgeries on mice, pigs, and other animals previously.

Micron-level operation

Ophthalmology is a tricky field for robotic operations because it involves an extremely high level of precision. A doctor's hand shakes one milli-centimeter in the wrong direction and that's the difference between an eye that can see and a blind person.

Specialized microscopes and visualization systems are required, which may pose a challenge to adapting robotics in ocular surgery. But doctors in China believe that robotic eye surgery will be available to people in the country by the end of this year or at the start of 2024.

Huang Kai, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University, believes that 5G robots are stable and accurate given the success of the rabbit operations. His team is working on developing 5G robots to assist in future surgeries.

Remote surgeries or telesurgeries are not uncommon. The first such surgery was performed in 2001 when surgeons sitting (or standing) in New York City removed a patient’s gallbladder in France. They used a remote-controlled robotic system, and the surgery quickly earned the moniker of the Lindbergh operation, named after the main surgeon.

There have been other instances of remote surgeries being performed over 400 kilometers away.

Saves time, reduces the cost

This is still an emerging medical tool and can prove to be very useful for patients in remote locations, emergency operations, and geographically distant surgeries.

Director of the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, Lin Haotian believes that this breakthrough will help accelerate remote medicine in China, and elevate the country's medical devices and equipment to world-leading levels. It will also contribute to the development of national medical standards, reported the China Daily.

Talking about how this could save time, reduce costs, and improve treatment efficiency, Lin added, "If everything goes smoothly, 5G remote micron ophthalmic surgery will be available to humans within half a year."

While it isn’t clear what kind of eye surgery was performed on the animal model, Lin said with the help of 5G communication and ultra-high-definition micro-stereoscopic imaging technology, ophthalmologists can obtain low-delay UHD remote microsurgical images in real-time, so as to make surgery more accurate.

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