MIT developed a wormlike robot that can swim through your veins

Credit: MIT

Just when you think MIT had developed everything achievable with modern technology they announce yet another innovation to change the face of medicine and healthcare

Engineers from MIT have developed a tiny robot which can move through narrow pathways. The wormlike guidewire, or Robo-thread, is made from a nickel-titanium alloy and is magnetically steerable.

The engineers tested the threadlike robot in a life-size replica of the human brain. With pinpoint accuracy, they were able to remotely guide it through the circuitous, winding vasculature of the brain model using large magnets.

The robot is tipped for use in endovascular procedures alongside existing tech. The scientists and engineers behind the development, led by Xuanhe Zhao, envisage its potential uses in the future to include clearing blood-clots and administering medicines.

robot thread
Engineers steered the Robo-thread through miniature eyelets / Credit: MIT News

Speaking of a potential use treating strokes, Zhao said: “If acute stroke can be treated within the first 90 minutes or so, patients’ survival rates could increase significantly…If we could design a device to reverse blood vessel blockage within this ‘golden hour,’ we could potentially avoid permanent brain damage. That’s our hope.”

Guidewires like this are currently in use to treat blockages and lesions in blood vessels, but they are operated manually and thus leave doctors open to the risk of radiation from fluoroscopy.

The team at MIT understood that their development could mitigate this risk, by allowing the soft robot to be manipulated remotely, rather than a surgeon manually manoeuvring a guidewire through the blood vessels.

Yoonho Kim, the lead author of the paper detailing their development, said: “Existing platforms could apply magnetic field and do the fluoroscopy procedure at the same time to the patient, and the doctor could be in the other room, or even in a different city, controlling the magnetic field with a joystick.”

MIT’s thread-like robot becomes the latest in a string of innovations which aim to take surgery and medical procedures remote. 

Shadow Robot Company have been working on a robotic hand which could potentially allow surgeons to operate from afar. The Tactile Telerobot has already been used to move chess pieces from over 5,000 miles away. 

Could we see a future in which operating theatres are staffed entirely by robots and remote surgeons? 

Luke Conrad

Technology & Marketing Enthusiast

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