Robotic thread could revolutionise stroke surgery

November 1, 2019

Posted by: Kate O'Brien


Scientists have recently developed a thread-like robot – Robo-Thread – that could glide through the narrow blood vessels in the brain to tackle the blockages causing stroke.  This device, it is hoped, could avoid permanent brain damage and potentially save lives.

Stroke 

Stroke is a serious life-threatening medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, causing injury to the brain.

As of February 2018, stroke was the fourth single largest cause of death in the UK and second in the world.  Stroke is one of the largest causes of disability – almost two thirds of stroke survivors leave hospital with a disability. 

There are two categories of stroke:

  1. Ischaemic: these types of stroke are caused by blockages, typically blood clots, which prevent the blood supply from reaching parts of the brain
  2. Haemorrhagic: these occur when blood vessels burst or leak near the surface of the brain, causing blood to enter parts of the brain where it normally wouldn’t be

Over 85% of strokes occur because of blood clots, i.e. blockages in the arteries supplying blood to the brain.

Existing Treatment

Currently, when a person is diagnosed with a blood clot or aneurysm in the brain, surgeons insert a thin wire into an artery near the leg or groin.  Then, guided by X-ray images, the surgeon manually threads the wire up through the body and into the brain.  The surgeon then manoeuvres the wire to remove the blockage.

This is a highly specialised skill and is very physically demanding.  Surgeons are often exposed to high levels of radiation due to the X-ray imaging given that the procedure takes place in close proximity to them.

Another downside to current surgical treatment is that there aren’t enough trained surgeons to meet the demand for surgery.

Ground-Breaking Study

The recent study, carried out by engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, suggests that the new technique would allow surgeons to carry out the procedure in another room or even another location entirely.  This is significant as it would mean that surgeons would not be exposed to radiation during the procedure as they are now. 

The robotic wire could also make it easier for surgeons to clear damaging blockages as it would remove the need to use hand-controlled wires in some situations.

Crucially, it also means that surgeons could assist in hospitals or areas that are under-staffed by carrying out the procedure remotely, resulting in a higher number of patients being able to access the procedure.  It would also mean that treatment could be carried out more quickly, which is critical given that time is of the essence when dealing with acute stroke.

According to Professor Xuanhe Zhao, one of the team of researchers:

“If acute stroke can be treated within the first 90 minutes or so, patients’ survival rates could increase significantly… if we could design a device to reverse blood vessel blockage within this ‘golden hour,’ we could potentially avoid permanent brain damage. That’s our hope”.

The new worm-like device has been successfully trialled in a silicone replica of the brain by scientists at MIT.  Although further research is required, it’s encouraging to see new studies which could lead to more effective treatment of stroke – potentially avoiding life-changing injuries and saving lives.

Video of how the Robo-thread would work (Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Kate O’Brien is a senior solicitor in the Adult Brain Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Kate free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4814 or at kateo’brien@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Adult Brain Injury team will contact you.  Find out more about the Adult Brain Injury team.

Posted by: Kate O'Brien

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