While catheters are commonly used in minimally invasive healthcare, the possibilities for such procedures may have just expanded thanks to an innovative design combining magnets and soft, flexible components.
A research team led by ETH Zurich doctoral student Hongri Gu has devised a novel means of inserting large instruments into the body through a narrow catheter. They developed instruments consisting of soft, elastic segments along with rigid segments that contain tiny magnets. The instruments disassemble into individual parts (yet remain connected) and are inserted through the catheter in a row, like a string of pearls, the team described in a news release. Once through the catheter, the components can fold or reassemble into instruments thanks to the built-in magnets. (See the video below for details.)
The team applied the approach to an endoscopic grasper and demonstrated the ability to assemble the endoscope head consisting of three parts. (View the above slideshow or click here to see the endoscope.)
“This design method also makes it possible for an endoscope head to perform movements with very tight radii and angles that aren’t feasible with today’s endoscopes. This increased mobility broadens the possibilities when designing devices for minimally invasive surgery on organs such as the intestine or the stomach,” the team shared in the news release.
The research was published in “Self-folding soft-robotic chains with reconfigurable shapes and functionalities,” in the journal, Nature Communications.
“Reconfigurable soft robots can potentially overcome” limitations with current surgical tools “by actively changing their shapes in situ,” the researchers wrote. “The shape-changing capability allows the surgical tools to be inserted into the catheter in a narrow configuration, and they can then transform into large functional structures upon reaching the targeted site. Furthermore, the shapes can be preprogrammed with different functional segments, allowing the soft robot to quickly switch between different functions, reducing the overall surgery time and risk of infection.”