UZ Leuven, ThromboGenics and KU Leuven realise groundbreaking eye surgery

27/01/2017

Eye surgeons at UZ Leuven succeeded in the injection of a declogging medicine developed by Thrombogenics into a patient's eye by using a surgical robot, developed by KU Leuven. The cooperation between these three founding members of Leuven MindGate is a breakthrough in the field of eye surgery.

The medicine was developed to cure Retinal Vein Occlusion (RVO). RVO occurs when a blood clot clogs one of the retina's blood vessels, resulting in reduced sight and even blindness. Worldwide, 16,4 million people suffer from retinal vein occlusion. In Belgium this means about 25 000 patients. The current treatment consists of monthly injections which treat the thrombosis' side effects. Removing the clot was deemed impossible, until now. 

Thinner than a strand of hair

To get the medicine in the retina's clogged blood vessel, UZ Leuven required an ultra precise robot to get the job done. Researchers at KU Leuven's Department of Mechanical Engineering spent seven years developing a robot which allows the surgeon to insert and hold the injection needle in a precise and stable manner, more stable than any human hand. The surgeon controls the robot by hand and not with a more common joystick. Any movements or trembles are countered by the robot, resulting in a precision ten times higher than usual. 

Which brings us to the needle. A blood vessel in the retina has the average thickness of a human hair. Quite the feat for any surgeon to successfully inject a needle and hold it stable for ten minutes. The researchers found a way to create a needle which is three times less thick than a human hair; 1/30 000 of a milimeter.

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