Thursday, August 29, 2019

Snake-like micro-robot built to crawl through human brain tested for first time


The super-flexible robot - less than a millimetre thick - is shown slithering through a model of human veins 
 
Overnight News Editor
03:20, 29 AUG 2019
Updated12:26, 29 AUG 2019


Snake-like robot built to crawl through human brain tested
A snake-like robot built to crawl through the human brain is tested by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The robot less than a millimetre thick is seen slithering through a model of human veins.


Scientists have designed a minuscule snake-like robot to crawl through the human brain in a major medical breakthrough.

The team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hope their hyper-flexible magnetised micro-robot will make it easier to diagnose and treat blood clots and aneurysms and perform other small-scale operations in the brain.

In a study published in Science Robotics, the robot - which is less than a millimetre thick - is shown able to navigate a model of a human brain badly affected with aneurysms.

Other robots have been based on snakes in the past.

But unlike previous models - which often use hydraulics - the latest robot uses flexible magnetic materials known as ferromagnetic domains to move around.

As it doesn't have to expand or contract to move forward, it can easily get around the narrow, fragile structure of veins in the brain.

The robot is covered in a layer of hydrogel slime, which allows it to travel with as little friction as possible, according to MIT researcher and lead author Yoonho Kim.

"If you don't have that lubricating layer, it gets easily stuck," he said.

Earlier robots - which were made of other materials including rubber - often faced these types of issues moving around tight spaces due to friction.



Scientists have developed a robotic micro-snake to treat blood clots and aneurysms in the brain (Image: Getty/YouTube)

The micro-robot is less than one millimetre thick

 
It is covered in hydrogel to make it easier for it to slither through the narrow veins of the brain

Now the robot has navigated a model of the brain, the next stage is to test it on humans, with animal trials expected soon.

Brain aneurysms, or weakenings of the blood vessel wall, as well as blood clots, require highly-skilled operations, where split-second decisions can mean the difference between life and death.

Patients often need to be moved from smaller hospitals to ones with more advanced facilities.

But with just a robot and an internet connection, Kim hopes patients will be able to stay at their nearest ER and still be treated.



Aneurysms are weakenings of the blood vessel wall in the brain

Yoonho Kim, MIT researcher and lead author of the study
 
 The team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hope the robots will be used for a large number of intricate surgical operations

He believes doctors will one day be able to perform surgeries remotely using miniature robots like his.

This would also mean surgeons could spend less time in the operating room where they are exposed to radiation.

Kim also believes autonomous surgery robots - like self-driving cars - may exist in the future, but insists humans will still have the ultimate control.

"The surgeons need to actually hold the key," Kim said. "Otherwise if something happens, there is a liability."

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