A number of congenital conditions result in missing parts of the gastrointestinal tract, such as esophageal atresia, while a few others can necessitate surgical removal of a part of the bowel that then has to be reconnected. Fragile and precious newborns are perhaps the most common patients for procedures requiring bowel regeneration and reconnection. In terms of esophageal atresia, the current standard of care, known as a Foker process, puts the child into an induced coma so that body movement doesn’t hamper the disconnected ends of a malformed esophagus from being pulled together by sutures attached to the back.
Now a team at Boston Children’s Hospital has developed a robot that can be implanted into a small child, connected to the parts of the gut requiring connectivity, and left alone to gently pull the disconnected segments toward each other. The new procedure doesn’t require the child to be placed in a coma because, unlike in the Foker process, there are no sutures connecting the guts to the back that create too much motion for healing if the child would be awake. The new robot grabs on only to the disconnected ends of the bowel being connected.
Because a coma is no longer necessary, potentially traumatic side effects such as clot formation are no longer an issue. Moreover, overall costs are significantly reduced due to simpler clinical care that treated children would require.
According to Vector, Boston Children’s blog, the robotic implant has two rings that are sutured around the disjointed parts of a bowel. An external power deliver device controls the amount of force that the two rings place on the tissues they’re connected to. So far this technology has been tested on pigs, as a proof of concept, demonstrating that the animals seemingly had no discomfort after the implantation of the robot and during its working phase when it increased the length of the affected bowel by 2.5 millimeters a day.
There’s already talk about trialing the same on human children, but in the meantime the same technology is to be tested on animals with short bowel syndrome, which can be caused by cancer, necrotizing enterocolitis, and other diseases.
Here’s a fluoroscopy video showing the robotic implant at work:
Study in Science Robotics: In vivo tissue regeneration with robotic implants…