Doctors at the University Eye Clinic Maastricht in the Netherlands have found a new way to save eyesight by using a “planet-hunting telescope” (known as the “Hummingbird device”) to prevent their surgical microscope from quivering during operations performed to save the sight of patients facing the threat of blindness.
“When you’re working within less than 1 mm, a shaky microscope is not an option,” stated Professor Carroll Webers, eye surgeon and head of the University Eye Clinic at the Maastricht University Medical Center, who explained that the microscope, which is mounted on the ceiling of the operating room is used to magnify the eye.
“The retina is barely half a millimeter thick and sometimes we have to peel back an ‘epiretinal membrane’, which is 10 times thinner. It’s impossible to perform this kind of delicate surgery with a wobbling image.”
The wobbles were traced to the fact that the new steel and glass hospital was particularly vulnerable to low-frequency vibrations caused by everything from wind gusts to vehicles going over a speed bump outside. Although barely perceptible, “the vibrations were 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, but factor in the 20 times magnification of the microscope they often put the surgery at risk. A steady-handed surgeon needs a steady microscope. As a result, we had the idea of mounting Hummingbird (originally designed for use in the European Space Agency’s Darwin telescope) between the ceiling and the microscope’s arm in order to isolate it from the source of the disturbance.”
According to the ESA, Hummingbird is so sensitive that it can detect the most minute vibrations that it can adjust by allowing small actuators push the microscope in the opposite direction, which "keeps horizontal vibration sensors level at all times and therefore prevents errors that normally occur when horizontal vibrations are countered at ultra-low-frequencies of one cycle every two seconds. "