Operating on the brain is tricky business. This goes double for surgery that attempts to remove tumors from deep within the brain. Removing all the bad tissue without affecting good tissue is difficult, even for the most highly trained brain surgeon. However, scientists funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NBIB) may have developed a solution: a tiny robot worm that can fry brain tumors and then suck away cancerous tissue, while leaving good brain tissue intact.
From performing heart bypasses to removing blood clots, robots are proving their worth in delicate surgery. What makes this particular surgery method unique is that it occurs while a patient is undergoing an MRI scan. It works like this: the robot is inserted before the patient enters the scanner. Once inside, the MRI machine allows surgeons to see where the cancer exists so that the robot can be directed by remote to that exact spot. The robotic worm, which moves by using a series of pulleys and springs, cauterizes the tumor and then sucks out the bad tissue, while the good brain tissue remains completely intact.
Being able to use the robot worm during an MRI scan is important: by tracking the exact boundaries of the tumor with constantly updated images, surgeons can get a more accurate idea of where a tumor is located. Often, during such surgeries, the tumor tissues shift around while it’s being removed, making it harder to distinguish exactly where it exists. The MRI scanner will allow surgeons to see this happening in real-time and direct the robot appropriately. This system is more precise than traditional tumor removal surgery methods and also makes surgery possible for more hard-to-reach tumors.
Currently, this technology has only been tested on pigs and human corpses. The robot worm will need to be tested more thoroughly before it is allowed for use on live human patients.