Scientists are developing tiny medical machines that stretch the definition of the term “robot.”
ACSE’s Dr Dana Damian and her team of colleagues from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have had their research featured in popular science article written by Gregory Mone in the September issues of ACM Communications. The article focuses on a new era of in vivo robots for surgery and tissue regeneration.
Dana’s research was inspired by a surgery performed on children with a rare congenital lung defect. The procedure called the Foker technique attaches structures to part of the infant’s oesophagus, then ties them off on the baby’s back. Over a period of time the structures lengthen the oesophagus by pulling on it, stimulating tissue growth. However, this procedure although it is effective comes with a high risk of infection, complication and the infant has to be sedated for a number of weeks.
The device developed by Dana and her colleagues is a 10cm long implant containing a motor, sensors ad wiring that connects to an external vest. The device has the same purpose as the Foker technique, but stimulates tissue growth by gradually pulling the tissue segment, whilst carefully monitoring and controlling the forces applied. This leads to greater precision. The device has been tested in an animal model, but these miniature robots are still years away from being used in actual hospitals. However, from this research it gives us a glimpse into what the future holds.