A robot creeping its way into the brain seems more like a nightmare than a neurosurgical dream come true, but recent research has developmental teams working diligently to someday make this science fantasy into a scientific fact.


Robotic Maggots In The Brain?

The theory sounds like the plot to a bad science fiction film, but the idea stems from some actual truth. Death and decay are typically followed by the arrival of maggots. The correlation prompted a television show to have surgeons insert sterilized maggots into a patient’s brain where the larvae would then eat away at dead tissues and leave healthy ones behind. It was this concept that inspired J. Marc Simard to bridge science fiction with reality.

Simard, a neurosurgery professor at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine in Baltimore (UMB), has been spearheading the intra-cranial robot research for the last four years. Why would a brain surgeon want a worm-like machine crawling around inside your brain? While the notion seems creepy and gross, it can potentially enhance the precision of tumor removal during cranial surgery.

The survival rate following the diagnosis of glioblastomas and high grade primary brain cancer is roughly less than two years. Conventional surgical methods to remove brain tumors allow neurosurgeons to map the organ during pre-op with the use of MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). They then use landmarks on the scalp or skull to help navigate inside the brain. One of the problems with this is landmarks will shift once the neurosurgeons have begun the resection procedure. The absence of an MRI during the procedure can make it difficult for surgeons to see and distinguish between the tumor and normal brain tissue.

Dreams Can Come True

Simard is in the developmental stages of a mechanical finger which is based on the anatomy of the maggot. The maggot-like robot is designed with multiple joints for various ranges of motion while probing the brain. The robot will also include an electrocautery tool on one end which will heat up and destroy tumor tissue while sucking up any debris.

The major upside to this advancement in robotic-assisted surgery is the prototype can work within the brain while the patient is undergoing an MRI. A challenge the developmental teams are facing is image distortion due to the electromagnetic motor within the probe that accompanies the use of a remote-control. This has forced the teams to try other avenues of manipulation. Hydraulics have been recently ruled out due to concerns about fluid leakage, but developers have turned to the use of shape memory alloys (SMA) that alter form in response to temperature changes. The use of SMAs in a newly-designed spring, cable and pulley system seems to be the next step for controlling the probe.

The prototype is still in the clinical testing phase and is currently being assessed by its work on pigs and human cadavers. While the safety and efficacy of the maggot-probe are still being verified, neurosurgeons are excited on how the robot can assist in reduction of incision size and enhanced visualization when attempting to reach deep seated brain tumors.

Help is Here Now

The future in brain tumor removal via the use of remote-controlled robotic probes is wide open, but don’t count on creepy crawlers worming their way into operating rooms anytime soon. The board-certified neurosurgeons in New Jersey possess the skills, knowledge and latest state-of-the-art instrumentation to handle every step of brain tumor treatment. Fill out our contact form or call (908) 688.8800 to begin the process of treating your condition.

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