A robot that can accurately perform skull drilling tasks has been developed by researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology (EuT). Making a hole in a patient's skull is a necessary task for many operations to treat cancer, infection or for cochlear implants.
It is a physical task that requires both precision and strength. Currently drilling a skull in preparation for surgery is a task that requires surgeons to stand in an uncomfortable posture for several hours.
Robot developed as part of Doctorate
Jordan Bos developed a new precise skull drilling robot as part of his PhD research, he received his doctorate on 16 April for the robot he designed and built. Though currently in prototype stage, the robot is expected to be further developed for surgical use and be in operation within 5 years.
More than 100,000 people worldwide undergo a procedure that requires some form of drilling into their skull. The delicate task requires surgeons to drill through the skull but avoid motor and sensory nerves, as well as the structures of the inner ear.
The task is made more difficult by blood and bone fragments that block the microscope's view during the procedure. A single drilling session may take several hours. Ears, nose and throat (ENT) and base skull specialist Dirk Kunst requested Jordan Bos to develop a robot to take over at least part of the drilling operation.
As part of his research, Bos visited more than 20 operations and worked through about 20 different concepts for the robot before settling on a final design that was developed into a working prototype. The robot, called RoBotSculpt, is operated by a skilled surgeon who uses CT scans of the patient's skull to direct the robot.
Before surgery begins, the patient's head is fixed into position. The robot consists of a drilling arm that holds a surgical drill.
The arm has seven axes of motion which allow it to be very precise. The robot is small and lightweight and can be covered with a sterile cover during operations.
RoBotSculpt will reduce operation time
Because the robot is much faster than a human surgeon, its use will also reduce operation times. It should also be able to complete the task with more accuracy which in turn will reduce the patient's recovery time and risk of complications.
The reduced time of the operation should reduce surgery costs and lessen the stress for both patients and surgeons. Dr. Dirk Kunst who worked alongside Bos on the project is delighted with the prototype outcome.
"This is an important step toward the operating room of the future. RoBoSculpt is an optimal collaboration between the surgeon and the machine; they really complement each other to achieve the best results for the patient,” he says.
The first preclinical trials with the robot will happen this year and the first surgery with a real patient could happen as early as two years. Initially, these tests may see the robot do preparatory work while a human surgeon completes the drilling. The company Eindhoven Medical Robotics have announced plans to commercialize the technology, in a partnership with Bos and the university.