A robot worm to explore the lungs for tumors

Here is a robot with magnetic tentacles capable of traveling to the depths of the lungs.

Technology has gradually changed the medical world. For example, it changed the way we can see and interact with the lungs. A new “robot with magnetic tentacles” has seen the light of day and intends to bring its stone to the building.

Scientists have invented a new design approach for flexible patient-specific catheters. They are magnetically controlled and variable in shape. The goal of this approach is to design and manufacture catheters that navigate the human body in a revolutionary way.

Update on endoscopy

In recent decades, in the world of medicine, minimally invasive approaches to diagnosis and treatment have emerged to reduce patient trauma and decrease recovery times. More specifically, methods based on flexible endoscopy have attracted increasing interest. Namely, an endoscope is an optical tube that allows visual inspections to be carried out in hard-to-reach places. Endoscopy is a procedure in which an endoscope is used to examine or treat organs or structures inside the body.

A distinction is made between the rigid endoscope and the flexible endoscope, and it is the latter that interests us. The flexible endoscope has a flexible shaft made of an optical fiber that conducts light. And this, whatever its length. The image formed on the input section of the beam is transmitted point by point on the output section. In short, this endoscope offers greater ease of access when the anatomy is sinuous. It allows to reach the anatomical structures without requiring incisions or associated scars.

But, despite the obvious patient benefits, endoscopic procedures may require longer learning curves for surgeons and system-specific training.

Revolutionizing bronchoscopy

Researchers at the University of Leeds, UK, have created a magnetic “tentacle robot” just 2mm in diameter. That is, twice the diameter of the tip of a ballpoint pen. They hope it will be able to navigate some of the smaller airways in our lungs and diagnose various lung diseases.

“We design and manufacture a fully scalable flexible magnetic catheter 80mm long and 2mm in diameter, capable of navigating through human anatomy”present the researchers. This system is compatible with a range of endoscopic or intravascular applications and is equally effective for navigational bronchoscopy. Namely that a bronchoscopy is carried out to observe the trachea, the bronchi and certain bronchioles. Currently, this operation is performed using a bronchoscope, a device that cannot pass through very narrow airways without the addition of a catheter. It is therefore cumbersome and difficult to navigate.

An autonomous robot

The scientists’ new technology, on the other hand, is controlled autonomously. And this, using external magnets mounted on robotic arms. In short, the system aims to be completely autonomous. A motion sequence for the external magnets is calculated in advance based on the patient’s CT scan data.

Another advantage is that this technology does not require radiographic imaging during the procedure. Indeed, the robot uses an autonomous magnetic guidance system that avoids radiography during the procedure.

This avoids radiation exposure and inconvenience to both patients and clinicians.

A magnetic invention

Concretely, the segments of the robot consist of a rubbery elastomer. This contains tiny magnetic particles, allowing the flexible creation to be manipulated using external magnets. Thanks to the magnetic fields applied by the external magnets, the flexible tentacle contorts and moves forward in narrow airways. Namely that the elastomer, or rubber, is the only completely elastic material that resists temperature and a multitude of fluids.

Clearly, this robot or magnetic tentacle catheter is extremely small. In addition, its shape, magnetically adjustable, conforms to the anatomy. Since it can reach most areas of the lung, it would be an important clinical tool in the investigation and treatment of possible lung cancer and other lung diseases.

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