Robotics

Tentacle-like robot weaves through the lungs to tackle cancer

Tentacle-like robot weaves thr...
Scientists have developed a magnetically-guided tentacle-like robot that can reach new depths of the lungs
Scientists have developed a magnetically-guided tentacle-like robot that can reach new depths of the lungs
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Scientists have developed a magnetically-guided tentacle-like robot that can reach new depths of the lungs
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Scientists have developed a magnetically-guided tentacle-like robot that can reach new depths of the lungs

The innovative use of magnetic fields has opened up some exciting possibilities in cancer treatment, with scientists demonstrating how they can be used to steer tumor-killing particles into cancer tissue or wires into veins in search of blood cancers, to list a couple of examples. A thin new robot developed at the University of Leeds follows in these footsteps, taking the shape of a tentacle that can be guided into the depths of the lungs to inspect suspicious lesions or deliver drugs.

The tentacle-inspired robot was conceived to expand the reach of what's known as a bronchoscope, a tube-like medical instrument used to examine the lungs and airways. Doctors will feed this through the nose and mouth into the bronchial passages, and then send a finer 2-mm catheter through the inside of it and deeper into the respiratory tract.

But this approach has limitations in its maneuverability which leaves some spots out of reach, so the University of Leeds scientists set out to design a more pliable device that could be more finely controlled once inside the body. The result is a robot consisting of linked cylindrical segments made from a soft elastomeric and embedded with tiny magnetic particles.

This means that when subjected to a magnetic field the individual segments can move independently, making the robot highly flexible and able to worm its way through the twists and turns of the lungs. In a clinical setting, pre-operative scans would allow doctors to map out the route through the patient's unique lung structures, which would then be programmed into a robotic system mounted with magnets to automate control of the magnetic field.

“A magnetic tentacle robot or catheter that measures 2 millimeters and whose shape can be magnetically controlled to conform to the bronchial tree anatomy can reach most areas of the lung, and would be an important clinical tool in the investigation and treatment of possible lung cancer and other lung diseases," said Professor Pietro Valdastri, who supervised the research. “Our system uses an autonomous magnetic guidance system which does away for the need for patients to be X-rayed while the procedure is carried out.”

The technology is still years away from entering use in hospitals, but the scientists believe its precision and autonomous nature will offer a much more effective means of inspecting lesions, taking tissue samples or delivering anti-cancer drugs in difficult-to-reach places.

"This new technology will allow to diagnose and treat lung cancer more reliably and safely, guiding the instruments at the periphery of the lungs without the use of additional X-rays," said Dr Cecilia Pompili, member of the research team.

The video below shows the magnetic guidance system steering the robot around obstacles. The research was published in the journal Soft Robotics

Magnetic Tentacle Robot

Source: University of Leeds

2 comments
2 comments
vince
I wish they could make little snake like robots to enter a persons tubing and then expand a little each day similar to what happens when a woman is pregnant. In this way arteries, ureters, and the like could slowly expand and open up. Maybe reducing the chance for a heart attack and so forth. right now they just put rigid stents in and keep things open but they don't expand slowly over time--say to 3 times their diameter. If done right it seems that would be an ideal way to expand arteries naturally without fear of breakage or clogging as once it does it's job it just shrinks back down and exits the body.
vince
And because they are rigid they eventually clog up just like the arteries themselves or ureters, etc.