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article imageNew robot can perform brain surgery with needle through cheek

By Greta McClain     Oct 19, 2014 in Health
Nashville - Engineers at Vanderbilt University have developed a surgical robot capable of performing intricate brain surgery by inserting a needle through the patient's cheek.
The idea for the robot began five years ago when Vanderbilt engineers began searching for a method to surgically treat epilepsy that was less invasive than burrowing through the skull.
The hippocampus, the area of the brain that is often times responsible for seizures, is located at the bottom of the brain and required a craniotomy in order to be reached. This meant that surgeons needed to make an incision in the scalp, the removal of a portion of the skull and the retraction of a section of the dura, the tough membrane that covers the brain.
Diagram of the brain
Diagram of the brain
Peter Wolber
The surgical robot has eliminated the need to perform such an invasive procedure. Instead, the robot pokes a hole through the cheek of the patient and enters the brain from underneath, eliminating the need to drill through the skull and disturb the dura.
According to Science Daily, engineers had to first develop a surgical robot that can perform within the powerful magnetic field created by an MRI scanner. Next they had to design a shape-memory alloy needle with the ability to precisely steer through a curving path. David Comber, a mechanical engineering graduate student at Vanderbilt, explained that a 1.14 mm nickel-titanium needle with curved concentric tubes was developed, which allowed the tip of the needle to follow a curved path into the brain. He went on to explain that compressed air is used to steer the needle, moving it at a rate of one millimeter at a time. This allows the surgeon to monitor the position of the needle by taking successive MRI scans.
During lab testing, the accuracy of the robot is better than 1.18 mm, which is regarded as sufficient for this type of surgical procedure.
The idea of using the robot for epilepsy surgery came after a discussion with Joseph Neimat, Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery. It was during that discussion that the engineers learned that neuroscientists go through a patients cheek in order to implant electrodes in the brain to track brain activity and determine where the epileptic seizures originate. However, since straight needles cannot reach the hippocampus, surgeons had to rely on the traditional craniotomy method to perform surgery on the hippocampus.
Engineers decided to watch Neimat perform brain surgeries so they could understand how the robot would work in a practical setting. Using the information gathered, the robot's design was finalized and the prototype developed.
When talking about the new surgical robot, Neimat said:
β€œThe systems we have now that let us introduce probes into the brain – they deal with straight lines and are only manually guided. To have a system with a curved needle and unlimited access would make surgeries minimally invasive. We could do a dramatic surgery with nothing more than a needle stick to the cheek.”
More about Brain surgery, Surgical robot, Robot, Surgery, Epilepsy
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