Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shape-shifting 'tube robot' could aid heart surgery

A surgical robot that can change its shape to skirt safely around vital organs and navigate inside arteries could one day spare cardiac patients the risks of open heart surgery. The instruments currently used in keyhole surgery are either stiff and needle-like, so they can only be manoeuvred in straight lines, or flexible and unable to transmit any force to the tissue. "Catheters are great, but they are like floppy noodles," says Pierre Dupont, a biomedical engineer at Boston University. "They follow curvature and contours, but you have limited control at the tip - you can't pull and push on tissue." Now Dupont and his team have come up with a way to combine the steerability of a flexible catheter with the stiffness of a needle. Called a concentric tube robot, the technology relies on a series of telescoping curved tubes. As each tube extends and twists from the preceding one, the robot is able to form a multitude of serpentine shapes, allowing it to easily navigate inside an artery while also being stiff enough to transmit force from the surgeon's hand to the area of interest

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