A group of researchers made of scientists, clinicians, and engineers from the STORM Lab of the University of Leeds has developed a proof of concept that a robot can be used to access the smallest bronchial tubes in the lungs. This “magnetic tentacle robot,” according to the published findings of the group in the journal Soft Robotics, is aimed to help medical professionals obtain tissue samples or provide cancer therapy. The researchers presented the proof of concept using the laboratory tests featuring bronchial tree 3D replica based on anatomical data. The researchers plan to apply it soon and see its navigation capability in the lung of a cadaver.
“A magnetic tentacle robot or catheter that measures 2 millimeters and whose shape can be magnetically controlled to conform to the bronchial tree anatomy can reach most areas of the lung, and would be an important clinical tool in the investigation and treatment of possible lung cancer and other lung diseases,” said Professor Pietro Valdastri, STORM Lab Director who supervises the research. “Our system uses an autonomous magnetic guidance system which does away for the need for patients to be X-rayed while the procedure is carried out.”
The robot is made of cylindrical soft elastomeric segments impregnated with tiny magnetic particles. Each segment has a 2-millimeter diameter and 80-millimeter length. By interlinking the segments and with the magnetic particles present, the robot is said to be capable of being manipulated through the external magnets that will be used outside the patient’s body. These magnets are installed on the arms of a guidance robot that will be programmed according to the operation needed by the patient.
The procedure will start with the pre-operative scanning of a patient’s lungs. The data holding the precise route through the bronchial tree will then be put into the robotic guidance system. This will allow the tech to work accurately in twisting and turning the magnetic tentacles inside the person without snagging. With this, the magnetic tentacle robot can offer more maneuverability than the present bronchoscope and catheter or fine tube processes used to explore the smaller tubes of the lungs.