The diminutive robot that had its launch run in the Lakeway facility of Baylor Scott & White Health last August looks like a crinkled soda can guarded by protective casing when not in use.
It sits atop a little platform and is connected to a computer to form an apparatus that can be wheeled around.
When in use, however, it is a game-changer. This is according to Dr. Mark Burnett, a neurosurgeon with NeuroTexas, who uses the device primarily for surgery on patients with Parkinson’s Disease.
The robot, called the Renaissance by Mazor Robotics, a company now owned by Medtronic, is the only one of its kind being used in Texas.
For the last 12 years or so, Burnett said, complex surgeries have often involved guided instruments, kind of like a GPS system. Robotics constitute the latest generation of that technology.
The new robot in use at the Lakeway facility has allowed Burnett to do a specific kind of surgery for patients with Parkinson’s and tremors.
“With this robot, we were able to perform a first surgery of this specific type for a brain patient,” Burnett said. “It’s kind of a moving field, and we’re using these things as sort of add-ons to what we’ve already been doing, but we’re right at the edge … with this brain robot where we essentially have a new co-pilot.”
Due to the robot, Burnett said, he can carry out about 90% of a procedure from a workstation prior to physically operating on a patient. This is another factor that has almost completely shifted the logistics of a complicated brain surgery, which in this case is called Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS.
DBS has been around since the 1990s and involves the insertion of a pacemaker device about the size of a Rice Krispie into a very specific location deep in the patient’s brain, Burnett said.
In the early days of the procedure, which consisted of two separate surgeries two weeks apart, patients had to be awake for the first part—a six- to eight-hour stretch. Through what are now antiquated surgeries involving less precise methods, patients who were bolted into a bulky frame would endure a procedure lasting the equivalent of a full day’s work shift and still have to return two weeks later to have the battery to the pacemaker put in.
The robot has essentially turned a two-part, roughly 10-hour surgery into a total of three hours for the patient, and they no longer have to be awake, Burnett said.
Telling the computer where he wants it to go, looking at images from a 3-D model of the brain, knowing precisely where he wants to put certain devices and other aspects of Parkinson’s surgery that used to be done while the procedure was taking place—those are all prep work now, in large part thanks to the robot.
“It’s taken a lot of that stuff away from the operating room, which is great,” Burnett said. “So, I can sit home with my laptop and plan my surgery.”
Another major benefit of the robot is how accessible the it makes the surgery, Burnett said. People used to be much more afraid of the procedure than they are now.
Research has emerged within the last two years showing the new, less-invasive procedure made possible by the robot is also just as safe as previous iterations of the surgery, Burnett said.
“People were afraid of that [older version of the surgery]like you would be afraid of the dentist,” Burnett said. “Nobody likes the sound of the drill and all that. This is not only making it nicer, safer and more efficient for patients in many ways, but it’s also making it more accessible because it’s a lot less scary. It’s kind of like having your gallbladder removed. You go to sleep; you wake up; and it’s done.”