Microbots to help surgeons negotiate arteries

January 21st, 2009 - 3:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Jan 21 (IANS) Researchers are creating microbots to simplify complex surgical procedures to treat stroke victims, hardened arteries or arterial blockages.They are giving finishing touches to these microbots, four of which can fit into a millimetre, tiny enough to be injected directly into the blood stream.

The researchers are harnessing piezoelectricity, the energy most commonly used to trigger-start a gas stove, to produce microbot motors.

As James Friend, professor at Monash University, who led the research team, explained, motors have lagged behind in the age of technological miniaturisation and provide the key to making robots small enough for injection into the bloodstream.

“If you pick up an electronics catalogue, you’ll find all sorts of sensors, LEDs, memory chips etc that represent the latest in technology and miniaturisation. Take a look however at the motors and there are few changes from the motors available in the 1950s.”

Friend and his team began their research over two years ago in the belief that piezoelectricity was the most suitable energy force for micro-motors because the engines can be scaled down while remaining forceful enough, even at the sizes necessary to enter the bloodstream, for motors to swim against the blood’s current and reach spots difficult to operate upon.

Minimally invasive or keyhole surgery utilises catheters, tubes inserted into body cavities to allow surgical manoeuvrability. They are preferred by surgeons and patients because they avoid damage when compared with existing cut and sew procedures.

Serious damage during minimally invasive surgery is not always avoidable and surgeons are often limited by, for example, the width of a catheter tube which, in serious cases, can fatally puncture narrow arteries, said a Monash University release.

Remote controlled microbots, tiny enough to swim up arteries, could save lives by reaching parts of the body, like a stroke-damaged cranial artery, that catheters have previously been unable to reach, because of the labyrinthine structure of the brain that catheters are too immobile to safely reach.

These findings were published Tuesday in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

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