During your lifetime, you have a 1 in 50 chance of developing a blood clot in your brain. If that happens, the chance of survival is only 60%. And if you do survive the blood clot, the odds are even higher that you will suffer from some sort of brain damage. That might seem scary (and it is), but scientists at Vanderbilt University are hoping that their new robot surgical tools will greatly improve those odds. By using a big needle that can be easily steered around the delicate parts of the brain by a robot, they believe that blood clots in the brain can be easily treated.
Traditionally, blood clots in the brain have been nearly impossible to treat, particularly larger ones that are not easy to reach. Current statistics show only a 25-50% chance that a clot can be successfully removed by surgery. The current approach is generally non-surgical, and relies on using drugs in the hopes that the patient will recover. Obviously, this method is not very effective.
Using robots in surgery has become more common over the past few years. From removing tumors to performing heart bypasses, robots have been successful in performing the delicate task of surgery. This new robotic technique for removing blood clots involves a needle with two tiny tubes: one straight and one curved. Using CT scans, doctors determine the best position for the needle to enter the skull. A small drill creates a hole there and the robot inserts the straight part of the needle into the skull at an angle. A curved tube goes inside the straight tube and is attached to a suction pump. This tube goes into the clot itself, where the pump sucks it up. The robot can move the needle's tip around precisely, making sure that all parts of the clot are removed. The results in simulations of this technique have been dramatic: the robot-steered needle successfully removed 92% of test clots.
However, the technique is not yet perfect. There is still a chance that a clot will collapse during surgery, which makes its edges hard to identify and more difficult to remove. In the future, the Vanderbilt scientists hope to create a computer model that accounts for this so they can prevent it from happening or learn how to work around it.