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Researchers at the University of Leeds in the UK have developed a magnetic tentacle robot that is intended for use in minimally invasive medical procedures, such as the treatment of tumors in the lungs. The soft tentacles are made from silicone. They are unlikely to cause tissue damage, and contain a series of magnets that can be influenced by external magnetic robots. The researchers hope that the technology will pave the way for minimally invasive procedures for lung cancer patients. In tests so far, the soft tentacles, which are just 2 mm in diameter, could travel 37% further into the lungs than conventional equipment. The researchers hope that the technology could create the possibility for minimally invasive interventions in some of the smallest bronchial tubes, potentially side-stepping the need for highly invasive surgery.

Lung cancer frequently has a poor prognosis, and in many cases surgical removal of lung tissue is the standard of care. However, this is highly invasive, and can significantly affect lung function, while also not being suitable for every patient. Developing less invasive approaches to help remove tumors would be very welcome, but the bronchial tubes are small and tortuous, particularly as you advance into the furthest recesses of the bronchial tree. Developing minimally invasive devices to explore and manipulate this area of the body is therefore challenging.  

This latest soft robot may be the answer. Measuring just 2 mm in diameter, these silicone tentacles are manipulated using magnets and are described as shape controllable by the researchers. “This is a really exciting development,” said Pietro Valdastri, one of the creators of the technology. “This new approach has the advantage of being specific to the anatomy, softer than the anatomy and fully-shape controllable via magnetics. These three main features have the potential to revolutionize navigation inside the body.”    

Interestingly, the researchers have also invented another application for the tentacles, which involved simulating endonasal brain surgery with a replica skull. The researchers used a pair of tentacle robots which worked together. One robot had a camera and the researchers used it to observe the activities of the other, which shined a laser onto the target to remove a simulated tumor of the pituitary gland.

“This is a significant contribution to the field of magnetically controlled robotics,” said Zaneta Koszowska, another researcher involved in the study. “Our findings show that diagnostic procedures with a camera, as well as full surgical procedures, can be performed in small anatomical spaces.”   

Study in journal Nature: Magnetic personalized tentacles for targeted photothermal cancer therapy in peripheral lungs

Via: University of Leeds

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