A team of scientists from University of Leeds designed a tentacle robot able to explore the lungs and enter even the smallest gaps in the bronchi. With it it would be possible to take samples from places that are practically inaccessible today and also to deliver medicines such as chemotherapy where they are needed.
Undoubtedly, the introduction of robotics in the field of medicine gives great news in recent years. This could be one of them; although, as the authors of the survey explain in a press release, it would still be necessary to wait a few years to be able to have it in the hospitals.
In fact, there are still a few test phases left. So far they have only tried the tentacle robot in 3D rendering of the bronchial tree. Then they hope to use it on cadavers and, from there, on living patients. It is true that many steps remain to be taken; But, according to the results published in Soft robotics, those who have tours have been very positive. In the future, patients with cancer and other lung conditions may appreciate it.
Barriers to access beyond the lungs
Doctors today use a device called bronchoscope. It consists of a flexible tube 3.5 to 4 millimeters in diameter, which is introduced through the nose and mouth and carried to the bronchi.
His problem is that due to his size, he can only access the highest part of the tree that makes up the bronchi. To be able to enter even the tightest corners, you pass a catheter about 2 millimeters through the bronchoscope. This can already be introduced into the thinnest branches of the tree, but it is very difficult to manipulate it from the outside. Let’s not forget that this is a tube within a tube inserted through the nose. It doesn’t leave much room for movement.
However, the tentacled robot developed by the STORM Laboratories, University of LeedsIt has much easier access. After all, it’s a vehicle independent, that operated from the outside by means of a magnet. It is not attached to any support outside the body, but instead uses magnetism to guide it to its destination.
A robot with tentacles to travel in tiny places
The tentacle robot is made up of a series of interconnected cylinderseach of 2 millimeters in diameter, like the catheter inserted into the bronchoscope. In total, he has 8 millimeters in lengthbut thanks to elastomer material of which it is composed is very flexible and soft, so that each segment can be articulated practically independently.
In turn, this material is covered with small magnetic particles that allow it to be manipulated from the outside. In fact, the robot with tentacles will not be the only robot in the room, since to guide it some magnets mounted on robotic arms. This allows the device to be guided individually for each patient. First, a series of imaging tests of the lungs and bronchi would be performed, aimed at discerning the exact point at which the sample should be taken or the drug delivered. Then, with this key information, the magnets are programmed to guide the sprawling robot.
Tests with the bronchial tree printed in 3D from anatomical data have been conclusive. It is expected that with corpses the results are also good. If all goes well, in a few years many patients will have access to this robot with tentacles in hospitals.
Robotics and artificial intelligence at the service of medicine
STORM Laboratories already has extensive experience in developing gadgets for enter the human body.
One of his greatest achievements was the invention of a low-cost endoscope, which could greatly help in diagnosing diseases in countries with few resources. But that’s not the only thing technology can do for medicine.
The use of magnetism guiding the robots through the body is something that is increasingly studied, which does not only focus on the lung area. For example, colonoscopy robots have been designed, which are guided through the intestines in this way.
In addition, more and more scientists are studying the use of magnetic nanoparticles for the delivery of drugs. This is especially useful with chemotherapy drugs as many side effects would be avoided. Magnetic nanoparticles are very small particles, into which the substance in question is introduced. Once the patient is injected, a magnet is used to guide her to the tumor. It also prevents healthy cells from being damaged, as is often the case with chemotherapy, which kind of takes care of kill flies with cannon shots. But they are not only used with antitumor drugs. Its potential for the development of contraceptives is also being studied.
On the other hand, the algorithms artificial intelligence They are very useful in diagnosing diseases. For example, he deep learning It can be used to analyze a large number of X-ray images and find possible lesions associated with diseases.
And what about AI algorithms that select substances with pharmacological potential among millions of molecules? These are also very useful, but only if they fall into the right hands. In fact, it has recently been shown that the misuse of these algorithms can contribute to the search for new chemical weapons.
But we’re not there. At least we shouldn’t be. Until now, inventions like this sprawling, lung-traveling robot have only been developed to help humans. The age of robots is already here, but we need not fear it. After all, if used well, their purpose is to make our lives easier.