Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a magnetically controlled threadlike robot that is thin enough to be able to crawl through narrow spaces such as the blood vessels of the human brain.
The technology could be used to treat the symptoms of strokes and aneurysms.
Currently, this type of surgery is performed by surgeons manually threading catheters through the brain’s vasculature. The snake robot is easier to navigate than catheters and the hope of using this new robot technology is that it will be able to provide a more efficient form of treatment in a procedure where time is of the essence.
“Stroke is the number five cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. If acute stroke can be treated within the first 90 minutes or so, patients’ survival rates could increase significantly,” said Xuanhe Zhao, associate professor of mechanical engineering and of civil and environmental engineering at MIT.
“If we could design a device to reverse blood vessel blockage within this ‘golden hour,’ we could potentially avoid permanent brain damage. That’s our hope.”
Constructing the Robotic Thread
The thread is made from a bendy and springy nickel-titanium alloy, or “nitinol,” which is coated in a rubbery paste or ink that's embedded throughout with magnetic particles. Then using magnets the snake' can be guided through vessels.
In successful tests, the MIT team demonstrated the robotic thread's precision by steering it through an obstacle course of small rings and in a life-size silicone replica of the brain’s major blood vessels. This model included replica clots and aneurysms modeled after CT scans of a real patient's brain.
For more information about this technology watch the video below.