BROKEN bones could soon be fixed by robots rather than surgeons thanks to the ever-increasing set of cybernetic capabilities being developed in Bristol.

Technology is being developed to put cutting-edge robotic systems to use fixing joint fractures with minimal invasion.

It is being developed at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) in collaboration with a leading orthopaedic surgeon, a company specialising in orthopaedic devices and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trusts.

The Gazette previously reported about the exciting research being undertaken at the lab into how to make robots trustworthy for personal assistive purposes.

Now the collaboration between The University of the West of England (UWE) and the University of Bristol is looking into new ways to revolutionise healthcare.

The project has received the backing of the National Institute for Health Research with a £642,000 research funding grant.

Current surgical techniques to mend broken joints focus around making a large incision so that surgeons can see the broken bones clearly to fit them back together.

However such methods expose the patient to the risk of infection and involve more pain and longer hospital stays.

This new project would create a robotic system to be used by surgeons to put pieces of broken bones back together without requiring major operations.

Robots would access fragments of bones using minimally invasive surgery (MIS) and CT scans would tell them how to move each fragment into the perfect position.

The hope is that this would allow surgery to take place earlier, bones to be re-aligned reliably and faster rehabilitation for patients with shorter hospital stays, less chance of arthritis and reduced costs for the NHS.

Dr Sanja Dogramadzi, who is leading the project, said the team had developed a prototype of their system and were now improving it and moving towards preclinical testing.

“This collaboration is all about taking the latest advances in technology and using them in a real application which will have direct benefits to patients,” explained Dr Dogramadzi. “By working closely with surgeons we are able to design a workable system which will function within the constraints of medicine and meet the needs of patients.

“The robots we develop will enhance the work of surgeons, by carrying out complex tasks suited to robots, while the surgeon is always in control and makes the decisions essential to the patient’s wellbeing.”

Collaborator Professor Roger Atkins, orthopaedic surgeon at UH Bristol, said robotic technology could enhance surgeon’s skills for the benefit of patients.

The research will last for three years from this September.

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