Apparatus and method for gripping and manipulating a surgical needle
2. A device for maintaining the orientation of a suture needle during the process of suturing.
3. A device that can grasp and retract tissue, whilst simultaneously being able to accept and retain a surgical needle being presented to it.
4. A device that keeps a surgical needle located and orientated within the operative field during microsurgery.
5. A method of delivering a surgical needle to the suture site, eliminating the need to manipulate the needle with hand or needle holder.
6. A simplified method of suturing requiring fewer movements and/or manipulation of the surgical needle by the surgeon.
7. A method of safe and easy storage of a surgical needle until reuse, or disposal.
 The needle retaining means 16 includes a sleeve through which one of the forceps arms is inserted to connect the retaining means 16 and the forceps 11 together. A locking arrangement is included to retain the retaining means 16 and the forceps 11 connected together. This is in the form of a notch and groove arrangement or other arrangement. The needle retaining means 16 is disposable.
 It is to be appreciated, however, that while the illustrated embodiment includes a disposable needle retaining means 16, the needle retaining means 16 need not be disposable. It could be reusable.
 As illustrated in FIG. 2, immediately prior to surgery, the packaging 17 is opened and the retaining means 16 with needle 19 and suture 27 is removed by releasably connecting the forceps 11 to the needle retaining means 16, by inserting one arm of the forceps into a sleeve portion 15a of the needle retaining means 16.
 FIG. 3 illustrates the needle retaining means 16 attached to the forceps 11 and removed from the needle retaining means packaging 17. As is illustrated in FIG. 2, it is envisaged that the needle retaining means 16 would be packaged with a needle 19 and a suture 27, attached to the needle 19. This is beneficial, because the needle 19 can be provided in an already orientated arrangement with respect to the forceps 11 and the needle retaining means 16, to enable for a simplified commencement by the surgeon or medical practitioner of the suturing process.
 FIG. 4 illustrates the surgical instrument 10 in use and in a first position wherein a suture is about to be applied. In the example, the forceps 11 are clamping one side 20 of an opening in tissue 22. With the forceps 11, holding the side 20 of the opening 21 as illustrated, the needle 19, extends from the needle retaining means 16, in a conveniently aligned arrangement to enable the exposed end 23 of the needle 19, to be clamped by a needle holder 24, referred to as clamp to avoid confusion with the invention. In FIGS. 4 to 13, the needle retaining means 16 is shown as a metal casing, which is an integral part of the device, with the needle pervious material as silicone.
 FIG. 5 illustrates the next step in the suturing process, whereby the clamp 24 is clamped onto the exposed end 23 of the needle 19.
 FIG. 6 illustrates the next step in the suturing process, whereby the clamp 24 is used to remove the needle 19 from the needle retaining means 16. The clamp 24 is then used to insert the sharp end 25 of the needle 19 through the tissue 22 on the side 20 of the tissue opening 21.
 FIG. 7 then illustrates the needle 19 being further inserted through the tissue 22, to the point where the sharp end 25 of the needle 19 extends through the opening 21 being sutured and with the forceps 11 now gripping the other side 26 of the opening 21.
 FIG. 8 illustrates the needle 19 having been inserted, using the clamp 24 to again be retained by the needle retaining means 16.
 In this position, the needle retaining means 16 can then be used to pull the needle 19 all the way through the opening 21 being sutured, as illustrated in FIG. 9.
 Once the needle 19 is pulled all the way through the opening 21, the forceps 11 are then used to grasp the other side 26 of the opening 21 being sutured. This is illustrated in FIG. 10. In so doing, the needle 19 is conveniently aligned with respect to the forceps 11, such that it can be easily clamped by the clamp 24, removed and then inserted through the tissue 22 on the other side 26 of the opening 21, as illustrated in FIG. 11. Again the needle 19 is inserted through the tissue 22 and into the needle retaining means 16.
 From this position, the needle 19 can then be pulled through the tissue 22 on the other side 26 of the opening 21 by the needle retaining means 16, as illustrated in FIG. 12.
 FIG. 13 illustrates how the present invention conveniently and safely enables the suture 27 to be tied at the end of the suturing process. The operator is able to comfortably hold the forceps 11 in one hand and the clamp 24 in the other hand, to enable the suture 27 to be tied without having to be concerned with needle stick injuries that could occur, if the end of the needle was exposed.
 Thus, it can be seen that the point of the needle 19 remains guarded at all times, except for when it passed through the tissue and into the needle retaining means 16.
 The illustrated embodiment permits a surgeon to alternate between positioning tissue and manipulating a surgical needle, without having to re-grip the instrument and the instrument requires only a small amount of movement. In fact, the instrument of the present invention permits for the simultaneous positioning of tissue for suturing and the retention of the point of the needle, after it is passed through the patient's tissue. For example, when using forceps suturing in a deep wound, the surgeon can pass the needle through the tissue at one side of the wound and into the needle retaining means, whilst using the forceps to retract the other side of the wound. This has the advantage of protecting tissue and reducing the likelihood of needle stick injuries.
 The present invention also has the advantage that when the instrument is used to position tissue near the suture location, the needle is presented near the suturing location in the appropriate orientation.
 In microsurgery, where suturing is done using a microscope to magnify the image, it is very easy to misplace the suture needle out of the microscope's field. This is very inconvenient, because the surgeon has to move away from the microscope to accommodate normal vision to find the needle. This is not only time consuming, but tiring for the surgeon. With this invention, the needle can be held in the retaining device until needed for the next suture and is therefore easily located or returned to the field of surgery, without the need for the surgeon to re-accommodate his vision on each occasion.
 Even when a suture is tied, the needle is held in the retaining member and remains guarded. The surgical instrument can then be passed from the surgeon to other staff members and the needle remains guarded.
 FIG. 14 illustrates one embodiment of a disposal device 28 for disposing of a plurality used needle retaining means 16. As illustrated in FIG. 14, the device 28 also enables the needle 16 and the end of the suture 27 to be hygienically and safely disposed. It is important to appreciate that the operator need not touch the needle 19 or suture 27, to remove the needle retaining means 16 from the forceps 11. The device 28 includes a housing 29 and a lid 30. The device also includes retaining means receiving portions 31. After suturing, the retaining means 16 could be detached and disposed of. For example, the lid 30 of the device 28 described above can be opened. The arm of the forceps 11 having the retaining means 16 attached, is pushed into a receptacle, which then grips the retaining means 16 with sufficient force so that when the arm of the forceps 11 is removed from the receiving portion 31, the retaining means 16 is retained in the disposal device 28. The disposal device 28 can then be closed with the assembly contained within it. If the surgeon wishes to re-use the retaining means 16 (and attached needle), the device is opened and the arm of the forceps 11 can be passed through the sleeve until the sleeve engages the ledge on the arm and is retained. The forceps 11 and the retaining means 16 (and needle) can then be withdrawn from the recess by manipulating/withdrawing the forceps 11. When desired, the disposal device 28 (holding one or more assemblies) can be closed and disposed of as a dirty unit. The forceps 11 can be sterilised and re-used in surgery.
 As previously mentioned, the needle retaining means 16 may be permanently attached to the forceps 11. Any known method of permanent attachment may be adopted, provided the needle retaining means 16 is securely fastened/attached to the forceps.
 It is to be appreciated that the forceps could be packaged in a sterile container and sold as a disposable unit.
 It is apparent from the foregoing that various modifications can be made to the embodiments of this invention, without departing from the spirit and scope thereof. These modifications and the embodiments resulting therefrom, will be apparent to those skilled in the art, after reading this disclosure.
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