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The Robot Needle That Destroys Fatal Blood Clots

At the end of December, seven-time Formula One World Champion, Michael Schumacher, suffered a devastating injury while skiing in the French Alps.

Schumacher hit his head on a rock at high speed, causing severe brain trauma and left him fighting for his life.

After spending almost six months in a medically induced coma to relieve swelling in the brain and reduce brain function to a bare minimum, it was announced on Monday that efforts to wake him up have succeeded. Not only is he out of the coma, he’s been transferred from the hospital in Grenoble to a specialist rehab facility in Switzerland.

The long-term prognosis is still unknown, but so far, it’s a victory for science and modern medicine.

And as technology advances even further, scientists are working on even more sophisticated ways to treat brain injuries.

Like this one…

Gelatin: It’s Not Just for Dessert

At Vanderbilt University, engineers have developed a robot with an ultra-precise needle called the Active Cannula.

It’s a needle designed to navigate its way through the brain to remove potentially fatal clots… while leaving the healthy surrounding tissue intact.

And the scientists say gelatin is the perfect material with which to test the needle’s accuracy and effectiveness.

It’s yet another much-needed innovation in the healthcare sector, given the rather grim statistics…

According to Vanderbilt neurosurgeon, Kyle Weaver, one in 50 people will develop a brain clot during their lifetime. And 40% of people who develop clots will suffer either brain damage or die.

And significantly, Weaver says once a clot does form, there’s very little that surgeons can do to remove it.

Hence the university’s efforts to change the situation – and change lives…

Press “Go” to Remove Clots

Clots are so difficult to remove because, as Weaver says, “Based on the anatomy and the way the blood vessels are configured, they’re often deep down in the brain. And the thought is that surgery is actually going to do more damage than the blood clot on its own.”

But the needle offers a way into the deepest, darkest parts of the brain to get at these clots.

It consists of flexible metal tubes controlled by the robot computer. The device scans the patients and constructs a map of the best route to the clot.

After that, Robert Webster, Vanderbilt’s Assistant Professor of Engineering, says the neurosurgeons formulate a plan and then, “The doctor just hits ‘go,’ and the robot would do that.”

The flexibility of the tubes allows the device to navigate its way around the delicate brain matter with more accuracy and safety than a surgeon’s hand.

Webster continues, “[The robot] would remove all of the stuff inside the boundary that the doctor drew and nothing else that is outside the boundary.”


But the team isn’t stopping there…

Add Precision to the Power

Webster says they’re working on other precise attachments to the robot – such as ultrasonic tips, or grasping tools – that would provide even greater accuracy, and even break up clots before sucking them out.

He says that could prove invaluable, given the brain’s density and complexity: “There are lots of nooks and crannies and airspace and a number of ways that we can navigate through the head to get to these deep-seeded tumors around very important structures. But the problem is that the corridor that we operate through is very small, so it limits our ability to use common tools.”

Vanderbilt’s innovation takes on more importance, given that cases of diabetes and hypertension – both known causes of blood clots – are rising.

The trials have some way to go before the regulatory process gets underway… but this robotic needle is another testament to technology’s progress in the healthcare sector – and could eventually be a life-saving innovation.

Ahead of the tape,

Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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