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European Commission - Press release

Digital Agenda: European robots helping to perform safer, quicker brain surgery

Brussels, 28 November 2011 – EU-funded researchers from Germany, Italy, Israel and the UK have achieved a breakthrough development in robotic neurosurgery. The ROBOCAST project, has developed a new type of robot that gives two important advantages to surgeons: 13 degrees (types) of movement, compared to the four available to human hands during minimally invasive surgery, and "haptic feedback" the physical cues which allow surgeons to assess tissue and perceive the amount of force applied during surgery. The robot has performed accurate keyhole neurosurgery on dummies, and when ready for humans, could ease the suffering of millions of Europeans diagnosed with tumours, and conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and Tourette syndrome.

Photo credit: Robocast

In keyhole neurosurgery a probe enters a tiny hole in the skull called a burr hole, and manipulates tissue or collects blood and other fluids. Robots can reduce surgeon’s tremor 10-fold, making them especially useful in protecting the delicate and important brain matter. Until now, robots have not been successfully tested for such sophisticated surgery.

Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said: "If any activity requires precision, it's neurosurgery, so I am delighted this EU-funded research is helping surgeons and patients to be safer. If we can cut waiting lists and deliver better results for patients as Europe's population ages, I think EU-funded technology projects like this will pay us back many times over.”

A follow-up project, called ACTIVE, is beginning parallel research into robotic neurosurgery for patients who are to remain awake during surgery. Up to three robots (two equipped with sensors and end-effectors to operate and one to actively smooth head movements) are expected to cooperate and assist the surgeon to perform the operation.

Research in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on medicine is strongly supported by the Digital Agenda for Europe which aims at easing the difficulties of illness and supporting active and healthy ageing (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200).


28 November to 4 December is European Robotics Week

Robots are a vital part of Computer-Aided Surgery which improves surgery through use of three dimensional displays, real-time intra-operative monitoring and other tools.

The global demand for robots and robot-related products was worth around 15.5 billion in 2010, including around €3 billion in Europe.

Under the R&D 7th Framework Programme, the European Commission has provided around €400 million to around 100 robotics research projects.

The ROBOCAST project started in 2008, leading to trial surgeries on dummies in 2011. The ACTIVE project started in April 2011 and will last for four years. It received 5.77 million out of total 7.62 million from Commission funding. The consortium of ACTIVE involves 6 of the ROBOCAST partners.

Useful links:

See also memo on Digital Agenda: 340 events for European Robotics Week (MEMO/11/841)

More on Robocast project –

More on Active project –

Digital Agenda website:

Neelie Kroes' website:

Follow Neelie Kroes on Twitter:

Contacts :

Ryan Heath (+32 2 296 17 16)

Linda Cain (+32 2 299 90 19)

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