Researchers have developed a robotic device for people suffering from epilepsy that would enter through the cheek bone, thereby avoiding having to drill through the skull besides being much closer to the target area.
The device has is a 1.14 mm nickel-titanium needle that operates like a mechanical pencil with concentric tubes, some of which are curved, that allow the tip to follow a curved path into the brain.
Unlike many common metals, nickel-titanium is compatible with MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging).
"Using compressed air, a robotic platform controllably steers and advances the needle segments a millimeter at a time," said David Comber, graduate student in mechanical engineering from the Tennessee-based Vanderbilt University.
According to Comber, they have measured the accuracy of the system in the lab and found that it is better than 1.18 mm, which is considered sufficient for such an operation.
In addition, the needle is inserted in tiny, millimetre steps so the surgeon can track its position by taking successive MRI scans.
The engineers have also designed the system in a way so that much of it can be made using 3D printing in order to keep the price low.
The next stage in the surgical robot’s development is testing it with cadavers.
The first working prototype was unveiled at the "Fluid Power Innovation and Research Conference" in Nashville, Tennessee, in the US recently.