Spain sees the world's first lung transplant performed entirely by robot

Medical staff from Vall d'Hebron University Hospital conducts a robotic lung operation only with the use of endoscopy, in Barcelona, Spain.
Medical staff from Vall d'Hebron University Hospital conducts a robotic lung operation only with the use of endoscopy, in Barcelona, Spain. Copyright Vall d'Hebron University Hospital/Handout via REUTERS
Copyright Vall d'Hebron University Hospital/Handout via REUTERS
By Roselyne Min with Reuters/AFP
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This new lung transplant technique uses a robot dubbed "Da Vinci" and no longer requires breaking a patient's ribs.


A team of surgeons in Spain has successfully performed the world’s first robotic lung transplant.

Lung transplantations are known for being complex operations as the patient’s chest has to be cut open. During the procedure, an incision around 30 cm is made and ribs are cut through to remove and replace a diseased lung with a healthy human lung from a donor.

But the new technology used by the Spanish team no longer requires breaking the patient’s ribs.

Instead, the surgeons at Vall d'Hebron Hospital in Barcelona used made smaller cuts to the side of the rib cage to accommodate the robot's arms and 3D cameras.

"This incision is made under the sternum, where the skin is very elastic. This allows us to open only the skin, and to insert this lung little by little," said Dr Albert Jauregui, Head of Thoracic Surgery and Lung Transplant Service at Vall D'hebron Hospital.

The new lung was also "deflated" in the operating theatre so that it could enter through the tight incision, which was just about 8cm.

Less pain and better quality of life

According to Jauregui, the new procedure is less painful for the patient as the wound closes more easily.

"We believe it is a technique that will improve patients' life quality, the post-surgery period, and reduce pain. We hope this technique will eventually spread to more centres," he added.

Xavier, 65, became the world’s first patient to undergo a fully robotic lung operation.

He needed a transplant due to a condition called pulmonary fibrosis, which causes the lining of the lung to become thick and scarred.

"From the moment I regained consciousness and woke up from general anaesthesia, I had zero pain," he said.

The four-armed robot used in the procedure is called Da Vinci, a commonly used robotic surgical system in hospitals across Europe and the USA for cardiac, urologic, gynecologic, pediatric and general surgery.

A similar surgery was performed at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, but the robot was only partially used there.

Spain is a world leader in organ transplants, according to figures from the Global Observatory on Donation and Transplantation, performing 5 per cent of organ donations worldwide in 2021.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Roselyne Min

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