China performs 5G-based remote brain surgery

China’s first 5G-based remote surgery on human brain was successfully conducted on Saturday. Some 3,000 km apart, doctors in Hainan manipulated the instrument to start the 3-hour surgery on a patient with Parkinson’s in Beijing, marking a breakthrough in China’s telemedicine.

INDEED it is a landmark brain surgery. Chinese PLA General Hospital (PLAGH), with the help of China Mobile and Huawei 5G technology, carried out the operation on 16 March last.
Conducted by Dr. Ling Zhipei, chief physician of the First Medical Centre of the Beijing-based PLAGH and Department of Neurosurgery of PLAGH’s Hainan Hospital, the surgery lasted for about three hours.
The patient, who has Parkinson’s disease, received a deep brain stimulation (DBS) implant in Beijing on 16 March during a procedure that lasted three hours, China’s state-run CGTN reported.
Ling started the operation at 9:00 a.m. in Sanya City, manipulating the surgical instruments 3,000 kilometers away in Beijing with micron precision on a computer through a 5G network, and successfully implanted the DBS at the optimal target site.
On 12 March this year, a complicated hepatic operation was done in a hospital in Shenzhen under the real-time instructions of an expert in Beijing, thanks to the high-definition images transmitted through live-streaming enabled by the high-speed 5G Internet.
Originally, the Shenzhen People’s Hospital, where the operation was conducted, sought on-site surgical planning and guidance from Dong Jiahong, an internationally renowned hepatic surgeon based in Tsinghua Chang Gung Hospital in Beijing, as the surgery was too difficult for local doctors to handle.
But thanks to the low latency, large bandwidth and high reliability of the 5G Internet transmission, Dong was able to supervise the real-time situation in the operation room 2,200 kilometers away in Shenzhen and give instructions.
“I take turns working in Beijing and Hainan, and the operation took place during my Hainan rotation. A patient with Parkinson’s in Beijing needed surgery and couldn’t fly to Hainan,” said Dr. Ling. He says the technology will help treat people who live in remote areas.
In the future, high-quality and high-level experts from advanced hospitals will be able to operate remotely and directly on patients in remote areas through remote surgery, completing operations which were previously difficult to finish at the grassroots-level hospitals, Dr. Ling added.
“The 5G network has solved problems like video lag and remote control delay experienced under the 4G network, ensuring a nearly real-time operation. And you barely feel that the patient is 3,000 kilometers away,” Dr. Ling Zhipei said.

The operation was performed using surgical robots controlled by Dr Ling Zhipei who connected to them through a 5G mobile network while he was working in another city. He hopes the technology will make it easier to treat people living in remote areas.

The landmark surgery is a big step toward surgeons from premier hospitals conducting more remote surgeries on patients located in far-flung areas or in disaster situations, and completing operations which were previously difficult to finish at the grassroots-level hospitals, said Ling.
Using surgical robots he inserted a deep brain stimulation implant – a device used to try and control the tremors Parkinson’s patients suffer – into the patient’s brain.The procedure lasted about three hours.
Dr Ling was working in the city of Sanya on the island of Hainan, which is off the south coast of China, near Vietnam. Beijing is in the north.
Although there is no cure for the disease, DBS can be a life-changing treatment for some people.
A successful operation allows people to potentially reduce their medications and improve their quality of life.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called ‘substantia nigra’. Symptoms generally develop slowly over years. The progression of symptoms is often a bit different from one person to another due to the diversity of the disease. People with PD may experience:
Tremor, mainly at rest and described as pill rolling tremor in hands. Other forms of tremor are possible. The cause remains largely unknown. Although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medications and surgery. While Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, disease complications can be serious.
The surgeon, Dr. Ling Zhipei, manipulated the instruments in Beijing from Sanya City, in Hainan, located about 3,000 kilometers away, with a computer using a 5G network powered by China Mobile and Huawei.
I take turns working in Beijing and Hainan, and the operation took place during my Hainan rotation. A patient with Parkinson’s in Beijing needed surgery and couldn’t fly to Hainan,” Ling told CGTN. “The 5G network has solved problems like video lag and remote control delay experienced under the 4G network, ensuring a nearly real-time operation. And you barely feel that the patient is 3,000 kilometers away.”
The patient is reportedly “feeling good.”
Dr Ling Zhipei is a surgeon at the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing, according to China Global Television Network (CGTN).
A deep brain stimulation implant is a device which acts as a sort of pacemaker for the brain.
Electrodes are placed deep inside the organ and used to regulate electrical signals which pass through it.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by nerve damage in the brain which means electrical signals are uncontrolled, which can cause stiffness and shaking in muscles.
The incurable brain disease is thought to affect as many as 10million people globally – approximately 145,000 in the UK.
By regulating nerve signals the implant can help to bring a patient’s movements under control and restore normal muscle function.
Experts hope improvements in remote-controlled surgery will make it easier for people to have operations without travelling to major cities.
In a video posted on YouTube by New China TV, Dr Ling said: ‘We hope in the future we can take advantage of the 5G network to enable more hospitals to carry out remote surgery.
‘In this way more patients will be able to receive teatment at their local hospitals.’
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) helps to control movement problems and is the main type of surgery used to treat Parkinson’s.
It involves implanting very fine wires with at their tips into the brain.
These are connected to extensions under the skin behind the ear and down the neck, which then connect to a pulse generator.
When the device is turned on, electrodes deliver high-frequency stimulation to the targeted area, which changes signals in the brain that cause Parkinson’s symptoms.
The brain is not destroyed in the process.
DBS is usually reversible. It does not stop Parkinson’s progressing and is not a cure.
In January, China also performed the first 5G remote surgery. It was, however, on a laboratory animal, and involved removing the animal’s liver, which was completed successfully.
The big advantage of using a 5G network for remote surgery is the reduced latency it offers, according to PCMag. The lower the latency, the more responsive the surgery robot will be to the surgeon’s actions tens or hundreds of miles away.
It then reduces the chances of mistakes being made and allows the surgeon to work as if they are actually present in the same room — or as Ling described “barely feel that the patient is 3,000 kilometers away.”
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