Study looks at possibilities of using robotic surgery to repair cleft palates

Posted on Saturday, 4 August 2018

Attendees at the ASAPS and NZAPS Combined Conference will today hear about the future potential of using robotic surgery to repair cleft palates.


Robotic surgery allows doctors to perform complex procedures with more precision, flexibility and control than is possible with conventional techniques. It is also often less invasive – with procedures performed through smaller incisions.

Plastic and reconstructive surgery Fellow Dr Eric Tan is presenting the results of a study that looked into the technical feasibility of using robotics in cleft palate surgery. Study senior authors were plastic and reconstructive surgeons Mr Arthur Yang and Mr Terry Creagh.

The authors say robotics has been an emerging technology for surgery over the last decade or so and has been used for specific procedures in urology, and ear, nose and throat surgery.

“We were encouraged by what we saw in other areas, and wanted to see how robotics would work in plastic surgery. The apparent area was cleft palate surgery in babies because it is also surgery performed through limited access and in a small confined space.

“Internationally, others are also starting to look into the use of robotics in plastic surgery – particularly in the UK, US, Canada and Belgium. We wanted to see what was possible in New Zealand, with the robotic equipment currently available in this country.”


The research team and biophysics engineers built a mock-up of a baby’s head and oral cavity, trying to emulate a real-life situation as much as possible.

The study found that while there are many impressive strengths in robotic surgery, it is currently too early to use this technology in the repair of cleft palates.

“Using robotics would have many advantages for cleft palate surgery, including the ability to operate in a tiny area with the precise surgical capability, having no tremor involved; and not to mention the lighting and magnification robotics can provide.

“However, our study showed we cannot yet apply what we know of current robotic surgery into our cleft palate practice.

“There are some equipment limitations we need to look further into, and design and refine for cleft lip and palate surgery.”

The study has been a valuable first step and first look into the feasibility and technical limitations of robotic cleft surgery using what is available in New Zealand.

“Encouraging possibilities have been opened up, and we will continue to watch what is happening internationally with great interest.

“For example, there is a new robotic surgery machine in the US that uses a smaller camera and multiple instruments housed in one single port for even better maneuverability. We will re-evaluate this technology once it is available to us.”



Media contacts:

ASAPS – Julia Power, email: jpower@asaps.org.au or mobile: + 61 414 276 990

NZAPS: Lizzie Price, email: liz@cmq.co.nz or mobile: +64 276 957 744

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