Researchers at Vanderbilt University have developed a working prototype for a robot that will perform precise brain surgery to treat epilepsy by entering the brain via the cheek. The approach will be less invasive than traditional surgery, which involves drilling into the skull.
The Vanderbilt system nvolves specially designed, steerable needles made of a shape-memory, nickel-titanium, alloy. The needles will be inserted into the patients cheek, entering the brain from underneath — thereby eliminating the need to drill through the skull. The robotic platform carefully guides the 1.14 mm needle into the hippocampus one millimeter at a time using compressed air.
“The systems we have now that let us introduce probes into the brain — they deal with straight lines and are only manually guided,” said Joseph Neimat, associate professor of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt. “To have a system with a curved needle and unlimited access would make surgeries minimally invasive. We could do a dramatic surgery with nothing more than a needle stick to the cheek.”
Neimat and his fellow researchers believe the robot could be performing surgeries within the next ten years.