Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital say they have created a prototype surgical tool that can allow surgeons to remove pediatric brain tumors safely and in a less invasive manner. The surgical robot uses hollow, nitinol robot arms to give surgeons the ability to switch tools during tumor resections and could also have applications for neurosurgery in adults and other surgical procedures.
Study coauthor and Boston Children’s Hospital chief of pediatric cardiac bioengineering Pierre DuPont said the idea for the project goes back to 2016 when he had conversations with Dr. Jim Drake, the chief of neurosurgery at Toronto-based SickKids. DuPont was in search of potential applications for surgical robots at the time and zeroed in on neurosurgery. Drake informed him that a surgical robot to aid in pediatric neurosurgery would require the ability to swap tools while the robot arms were in place and a relatively large workspace at the trocar tip.
With these requirements in mind, DuPont teamed up with a team of mechanical engineers at Boston Children’s Hospital and won a National Institutes of Health grant to develop the tool-swapping surgical robot. The team built a prototype with two hollow arms made of precurved nitinol concentric tubes that leveraged the superelastic properties of a nickel-titanium alloy to set the curvature.
DuPont explained that the two tubes can straighten out when one tube is slid into another tube of opposing curvature and create a trumpet-shaped workspace when the joined hollow tubes are rotated. Surgeons can also work without fear of buckling the robotic surgical tool as the precurved nitinol tubes create superior rigidity.
According to DuPont, developing concentric tube robots capable of creating larger workspaces while remaining perfectly balanced was a significant technological advancement. Since the team had more or less figured out how to keep the surgical robot balanced, they focused on creating bigger workspaces.
The team achieved this by using lasers to cut diamond-shaped holes in the nitinol tubes to expand the surgeon’s available working space. Rather than using a solid tube, DuPont says, the team discovered that using lasers to cut specific patterns into the tubes could allow for tubes with tighter curves and superior rigidity. Furthermore, the laser-cut patterns allowed the researchers to control the nitinol tubes’ relative stiffness.
DuPont says the technology can enhance brain-tumor surgeries by granting surgeons both of their arms, compared to conventional brain surgeries, which use one-armed tools. The technology also enables access to a variety of minimally-invasive tools.
As brain cancer surgery improves through the use of novel tools such as the dual-armed robots developed by the BCH team, the cancer drugs developed by enterprises such as CNS Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CNSP) could have a better chance of killing off the residual cancerous cells that remain after the surgery.
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