Model of human brain / Getty Images/Creatas RF
(THE TENNESSEAN) Researchers at Vanderbilt University are designing robots that may one day assist neurosurgeons in treating brain clots.
The robots are part of an image-guided surgical system that would use steerable needles to penetrate the brain with minimal damage and then suction away blood clots. The robot is being developed in an collaboration between a team of engineers and physicians headed by Robert J. Webster III, a professor of mechanical engineering, and Kyle Weaver, a professor of neurological surgery.
"When I was in college may dad had a brain hemorrhage," Webster said. "Fortunately, he was one of the lucky few who survived and recovered fully. I'm glad I didn't now how high his odds of death or severe brain damage were at the time, or else I would have been even more scared that I already was."
Forty percent of people who suffer an intracerebral hemorrhage, which occurs when a blood vessel bursts within the brain, die within a month. Many survivors end up with serious brain damage.
Webster's team has designed a steerable needle system, which he calls an active cannula. It consists of a series of thin, nested tubes, with each having a different curvature. By precisely rotating, extending and retracting these tubes, a neurosurgeon would be able to to follow a curving path, allowing surgical procedures with minimal contact to areas of the brain unaffected by a hemorrhage.