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A robot in mind

Fri, 05/18/2012 - 10:30am

It’s a new kind of robot, designed for some of the most delicate operations a surgeon can perform.

Giancarlo Ferrigno is Professor at Politecnico di Milano.

He said:“This is a robotic system for assisting a surgeon during neurosurgery operations. It has been designed for the insertion of instruments like biopsy probes or electrodes for deep brain stimulation through small holes in the head of the patient.”

It’s a new kind of robot, designed for some of the most delicate operations a surgeon can perform.

It’s accurate to just a few hundred microns, and is far steadier than a surgeon’s hand. And that’s a big help:

“To maintain a specific orientation and avoid areas that could be just a few milimetres away from the one that you want to go through, a robot is certainly a lot more accurate,” Ferrigno added.

Neurosurgeon Francesco Cardinale is a specialist in epilepsy surgery.

He helped the robot engineers at Politecnico di Milano understand what doctors really need.

That includes defining the parameters of the software that plans each operation.

One of the system’s innovative features is the feedback from the robot to the surgeon via the hand-held controller.

He said:“The surgeon can control the movements of the active robot using an instrument like that, and at the same time receive feedback of the sensations that he would have operating directly on the brain.”

The robot feedback is amplified to help the surgeon feel his way around the brain.

So what kind of operation could be perfomed with this type of robot?

“Drug-resistant epilepsy, Parkinsons and other motor skill problems like for example dystonia, chronic pain and all types of brain cancer,” said Cardinale.

The robot, developed within the EU’s RoboCast project, is a year away from surgical trials.

In the meantime, the engineers are making it even smarter.

Giancarlo Ferrigno said there’s still more work to do: “The next step is to work on robots that have their own activity, for example to compensate for the movement of the patient’s head during an operation, as in surgical interventions on patients who remain awake.”

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