A real-time image of the surgery is transmitted from Beijing to Sanya. Photo: Handout

Surgeons working 2,500 kilometers away have successfully operated on a patient in Beijing who has Parkinson’s disease, in the first real-time remote telesurgery conducted in China through trial 5G-based communication technologies.

A team of technicians and surgeons from the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital began the three-hour operation to insert a deep stimulation implant in the unnamed patient’s brain at about 9am on Saturday from Sanya in southern Hainan province. Assisted by China Mobile and Huawei, they used a computer to manipulate surgical instruments far away in Beijing.

The physician who conducted the groundbreaking surgery told the People’s Daily that he had been traveling between Beijing and Sanya to give treatment, but the patient was unable to fly to Hainan for the operation because of his deteriorating condition.

Giving a thumbs-up after waking from the surgery, the patient said “I feel good”.

The operation was one of the latest showpieces of China’s increasing technical prowess as it exploits the potential of 5G technologies, which offer ultrafast connections and almost zero latency (delays in the transmission of data). Such real-time surgeries are likely to save many lives.

The patient wakes up after his brain implant from China’s first 5G telesurgery, conducted between Beijing and Sanya. Photos: Handout, NetEase

Another team of surgeons carried out a complex hepatic operation at a hospital in the southern city of Shenzhen last week under the guidance of an expert in Beijing, who relied on ultra high-definition video streaming via a 5G network.

The world’s first 5G surgery was also conducted on an animal in southeastern Fujian province with help from Huawei and China Unicom. The hepatic lobectomy operation took place in a local hospital, with guidance from experts 50 kilometers away. Huawei said the one-hour telesurgery was a success.

A remote operation generally consists of one or more surgical arms being controlled by an offsite surgeon, while a master console is manned by a technical support team. China hopes its scheduled 5G rollout from the second half of 2019 will enable specialist surgeons to treat patients living in rural areas or those unfit for long-haul flights.

Xinhua said China would offer incentives to encourage remote surgery and telemedicine, ranging from consultation and diagnosis to operations, in the hope that patients would no longer need to travel beyond their local hospital.

Surgeons try out Huawei’s telesurgery system. Photo: Handout

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