3-D printing, robotics and other technological advances have been revolutionizing the field of medicine in the past few years. From 3-D printed prosthetics for amputee victims to the bionic pancreas, there is no denying that modern medicine owes many of its recent advances to technology.
Now, researchers from Vanderbilt University have designed a robot that can perform brain surgery on people suffering from conditions that affect the hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays a role in inhibition, memory and spatial awareness.
Epilepsy is one of the main conditions that affects the hippocampus. In the most serious cases of epilepsy, the hippocampus is actually removed from the brain completely.
But since the hippocampus is located on the underside of the brain, classic surgery techniques require opening up the top of the skull and drilling all the way through the brain to reach it.
So instead of going in from the top, the robot goes in through the cheek in a much less invasive process.
But unlike the classic technique (which takes a straight path to the hippocampus), coming in through the cheek means avoiding a few obstacles.
To deal with this problem, the researchers designed the robot with a complex “shape-memory” titanium alloy needle made out of multiple segments, some of which are curved to avoid specific obstacles.
But there was still another obstacle that the researchers had to overcome. The robot’s medical operators needed to see exactly where the needle was going during surgery, which meant having both the patient and the robot in an MRI machine throughout the whole procedure.
And since MRI machines emit a strong magnetic field, the use of metal was out of the question. So the researchers built the robot primarily out of 3-D printed plastic components that don’t affect the MRI scanner. Using mostly plastic parts also makes the robot cheaper and easier to repair.
The robot is now on its way to cadaver testing, and its designers are optimistic that it could be used on actual patients within ten years.
Read the original story from Gizmodo.