Imagine tiny robots, called microsurgeons, that physicians can steer through blood vessels to deliver cancer drugs.
Researchers at the University of Houston and Houston Methodist Hospital are working on making that a reality.
The team is developing imaging technology, control algorithms, ultrafast computational methods and human-machine immersion methods to harness the power of an MR scanner. MR will be used to both provide imaging and steer the .5- to-2-millimeter-robots through the body.
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Even the fastest MR systems on the market are too slow for this procedure and have a time lag before the information is available. Real-time control is required, since blood vessels move around the body and surgeons need to see the anatomy as well as the robot to ensure it’s moving correctly.
MR imaging generates enough magnetic force to move the robots through the body’s venous system, but it can’t penetrate tumors or other tissues. To address that, the team is working on two designs — one based on the principle of mechanical resonance and the modeled after a self-assembling surgical tool.
The University of Houston received a $608,000 Synergy Award from the National Science Foundation to develop a prototype suitable for animal testing. The grant is awarded through NSF’s Cyber-Physical Systems program.
The research team’s goal is to use the power of MR to target delivery with dozens of robots throughout the body.
Even though a single robot is capable of targeting a lesion to deliver chemotherapy or another treatment, the researchers caution that this isn’t practical for late-stage cancer.