A patient is said to have retinal vein occlusion (RVO) if there is a blood clot in one of his/her retinal veins. With this condition, eyesight is considerably reduced. And in its extreme case, the affected eye can eventually become blind.
Currently, RVO treatment involves costly monthly eye injections (around €32,000 per injection) that are only capable of reducing the side effects of the condition. Further treatment to remove the actual blood clot is not yet available. It should be noted though that following a successful eye operation conducted in Belgium by a team of University Hospitals Leuven eye surgeons, this situation may soon change.
Actual removal of the blood clot from an RVO patient has been proven to be a near-impossible feat because of the delicate nature of the procedure. It involves injecting a drug into a vein that’s as thin as a single strand of human hair. And after injecting it, the small needle that’s barely 0.03 millimeters wide, has to be kept absolutely still for about seven minutes, otherwise, the retinal vein, which is only around 0.1 millimeter wide, will be at risk of even more serious damage.
After years of trying, it appears that collaborative effort among Belgian engineers, ophthalmologists and a robot assistant might have finally accomplished what no one has ever done before. By using a robot to stabilize the needle and the eye, thereby eliminating any movement or vibration, the surgeon performing the operation — Professor Peter Stalmans — was able to inject the needed drug into the patient’s eye, safely dissolving the blood clot into the vein.
Using a robot to help with the operation was one genius move because even the best surgeon with the steadiest of hands might find it impossible to hold a small needle for more than a few minutes. And if there’s one thing a robot can do effortlessly, it’s to stay still and hold something still. Which is exactly what the procedure needed to be a success.
After the operation, the patient reportedly experienced improved visual acuity and reduced retinal swelling. Essentially, the treatment was able to address the real source of the problem, not simply reduce its side effects.
The next phase involves a clinical trial that will test the feasibility of the technology in six different patients. If all goes well, it is hoped that investors will enter the picture so the technology can be developed into a full-scale treatment program.
And as Professor Stalmans said in a statement they issued:”The robotic device enables us to treat the cause of the thrombosis in the retina for the first time. I am therefore looking forward to what is next: if we succeed, we will literally be able to make blind people see again.”