A miniature robot the size of a grain of salt has been unveiled yesterday in Australia. An electrically powered micromotor device called the NeuroGlide was revealed by its inventors Professors Bernard Yan and James Friend after six years in development through a partnership between the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) and the Royal Melbourne Hospital where it was unveiled.
This world-first invention could save the lives and function of patients who have suffered a cerebral aneurysm or stroke as well as making the neurosurgeon’s job much easier.
When someone has suffered a stroke, in order to preserve the function of the area of the brain where the damage has occurred, it is necessary to remove the blood clots which form. Traditional methods of doing this involve a manually guided soft flexible micro-catheter, which is a process fraught with challenge and danger.
Arteries, particularly as we age and become more prone to strokes, are fragile vessels with delicate walls, easily damaged by even the most flexible catheter. If this happens, it can result in death, or at the very least, permanent disability. To make matters worse, as we age our arteries become more twisted and convoluted, unlike the broad, straight highways they resemble in young people.
Navigating the neurosurgical equivalent of a soggy piece of spaghetti through the complex maze of arteries, from a starting point in the femoral artery just below the groin is an Herculean task.
This new technology offers an easier, more accurate and safer method for treating stroke victims to ensure that they have the best chance of recovery and the opportunity to recover as much of their physical and mental function as possible.
The NeuroGlide is an electric micro-motor which, at just 240 microns or the width of a human hair, is placed at the end of a catheter and controlled remotely, offering a vastly superior level of precision and safety compared with current methods. It is capable of moving with great precision to the left or right, backwards or forwards, throughout the maze of cerebral microvasculature, some of which are barely larger than this micro-robot and have, up until now, been inaccessible.
The peak no-load angular velocity and maximum torque were 600 rad/s and 1.6 nN-m, respectively, and we obtained rotation about all three axes. By using a burst drive scheme, open-loop position and speed control were achieved.
Neurointerventionist and lead author of the paper which announced this invention, Bernard Yan said at the unveiling in Melbourne that currently about 15 per cent of stroke victims died because the blood clot in their brain could not be accessed down a winding path of arteries.
He said it was hoped the Neuroglide would reduce this figure to less than five per cent of those patients, as well as speeding up the life-saving treatment for many others.
“Now we’re able to have a microrobot attached to a microcatheter, which allows for much better manoeuvrability and navigation capacity, so we can get around winding arteries that we previously couldn’t get around,” Associate Professor Yan said.
One of the senior research fellows at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) University, Professor Bernard Yan explained
“It is intensely frustrating when, in the heat of the moment you know you are racing against time. There’s a time window beyond which there will be no chance of saving that patient.”
The world’s strongest micro-motor developed so far, it has the equivalent driving power of a small kitchen appliance!
Professor Yan explained “It provides two components…more power to enable the catheter to get to where we want it to get to, but it also allows us manoeuvrability. Having a micro-robot attached to a micro-catheter, allows for much better manoeuvrability and navigation capacity, so we can get around winding arteries that we previously couldn’t get around.”
It has been tested in laboratories but will require further years of testing before it can be used on live patients. If all goes well, the NeuroGlide may be in use on human patients in as little as 4 years’ time. Although the invention is currently aimed at the arterial system of the brain, the research team said there was no reason why they system could not be applied to other parts of the body, such as the heart, kidneys or other organs, in the future.
Yun C, Yeo LY, Friend JR, Yan B. Multi-degree-of-freedom ultrasonic micromotor for guidewire and catheter navigation: the NeuroGlide actuator Appl. Phys. Lett. 100, 164101 (2012); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.3702579