Intracerebral hemorrhaging is what occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, and the blood which subsequently leaks out of that vessel forms a clot that places pressure on the surrounding brain tissue. It’s not that uncommon of an occurrence, it’s difficult to treat, and is fatal in about 40 percent of cases. Help may be on the way, however. A team from Nashville’s Vanderbilt University has created a robotic device that is designed to remove those clots, in a safe and minimally-invasive fashion.

As things currently stand, surgery is a risky approach to removing the clots. An access hole has to be drilled in the skull, and unless the clot is right on the outside of the brain, healthy brain tissue must be disturbed and damaged in order to reach it. The amount of damage caused by the surgery may even outweigh the benefits of removing the clot, which is why physicians often instead choose to administer anti-inflammatory drugs and hope for the best.

That’s where the active cannula comes in.

Designed by a team of physicians and engineers led by Professors Robert J. Webster III and Kyle Weaver, the business end of the device consists of a tube-within-a tube. The straight outer tube is less than one-twentieth of an inch in diameter, and is inserted through a similarly-small hole made in the skull, adjacent to the clot.

Using a CT scan for reference, the cannula’s robotic control unit carefully pushes that very thin tube into the brain, until its tip has entered the clot. At that point, the curved tip of the needle-like inner tube emerges from within the outer one – the other end of the inner tube is attached to an external suction pump. By selectively extending, withdrawing and rotating the inner tube, the control unit is then able to suck the clot out from the inside.

In lab tests, the system was able to remove up to 92 percent of a simulated blood clot.

The researchers are now working on adding ultrasound imaging to the active cannula along with a computer model of the way in which brain tissue deforms around a clot, in order to ensure that the device is able to safely remove as much of the clot as possible.

More information is available in the video below.

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