Pierre Dupont and his team at Boston University and the Boston Children’s Hospital are working on a concentric tube robot that has successfully performed heart surgery on pigs through veins in the neck, rather than requiring open heart surgery.
The instruments currently used in keyhole surgery are either stiff and needle-like, so they can only be maneuvered 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.” [Newscientist]
I can relate. Anyway, the new concentric tube robots consist of the internet a series of tubes which are telescoping and curved, enabling the tubes to form several shapes and steer like a flexible catheter while having the sturdiness to operate on tissue. The surgeon steers the tubes using a computer program and a joystick, as seen in the video below. Considering how many complications can arise in open heart surgery (my dad caught an infection in his sternum while open and had to have his sternum replaced with titanium plates, for example), operating through the neck could be much safer. This could be kind of awesome, until a surgeon sneezes and kali-ma‘s somebody. Then it’s really awesome.