Endoscopic surgical procedures have made a huge difference in helping to treat sites that would otherwise require considerably more invasive approaches. Yet, there’s still a great deal of potential in miniaturizing existing devices and having the ability to get to even the most challenging regions of the body. Researchers at Vanderbilt University have been working on just such tools in the hope of revolutionizing needlescopic surgery, aka micro-laparoscopy, the technique of using extremely small instruments within very confined spaces.
In the past they’ve developed a very narrow instrument that can be extended to follow a curve, allowing it to reach areas that a straight, rigid instrument could not. But, the limitation was that the instrument could not actually bend, but just snake around things. Now they’ve come up on an easy way of making such tools flex and so allow actual manipulation of the target tissue.
The technique relies on the popular nitinol metal alloy, which has advanced shape memory properties. Putting slots on one side of the device’s shaft and running a wire down the middle allows it to be bend toward the side where the slots are when the wire is pulled on. Releasing the wire returns the instrument, thanks to the properties of nitinol, to its original shape. While the solution is pretty simple and intuitive in retrospection, it goes a long way to overcoming limitations that existing solutions have in being able to be scaled down to such a small level. The researchers expect that initial application of this technology will be for transnasal operations on the brain.
Check out a Vanderbilt video with the researchers discussing their work:
Here’s a video of the micro-gripper in action:
Source: Vanderbilt University…