UCL Ear Institute

Prof Alf Linney

Prof Alf Linney

Emeritus Professor

The Ear Institute

Faculty of Brain Sciences

Joined UCL
1st Oct 2009

Research summary

My work looks at using imaging, virtual and augmented reality and robotics to develop extensions to surgical techniques that can be used to improve the outcome of Ear surgery. The aim is to reduce the risk of deafness caused by surgical error by improving the surgeon's ability to perform intricate repair work. In the future, my colleagues at the Institute hope to develop agents for regenerating hair cells, and if theyre not going to be delivered by a chemical or biological carrier, then they will have to be delivered physically and the techniques I'm developing will also contribute to that. In this type of work, there is a lot of development of software, ideas and algorithms that goes on in a distributed sense. We use modern telecommunication systems to form collaborations with institutions across the country, indeed some of the patients that we have actually applied these techniques to have been in places like Edinburgh and we never actually set eyes on them!


I started out as a physicist many years ago! I moved into medical physics after some experience in Berkley California where I learnt about 3 dimensional treatment of head and neck tumours using radiation. When I came back to the UK I tried to find work in the same field but found that the techniques I’d developed were also very useful in terms of surgery and was approached by the people from Max Fac (Maxillo Facial Unit) at UCLH to help them apply the same kind of 3D visualisation techniques in surgery. I moved into the Ear Institute (Institute of Laryngology and Otology as it then was) to work with Gus Alusi and Tony Wright developing image guided surgery techniques for ear and temporal bone surgery, where any inability to accurately place and move surgical tools could be a very serious problem. The introduction of computers into surgery has been an uphill struggle for all of those of us who’ve been involved in it because what you’re doing is replacing something which people quite often regard as an art of some form with hardnosed technology. I get a great sense of satisfaction when I actually succeed in convincing somebody that it is worthwhile to change the way they perform their surgery and it consequentially produces tangible improvements in terms of results for the patient.