MIT has invented a new robotic thread that is small enough to travel through the blood vessels inside the human brain. The robotic thread is controlled using magnets to actively guide it through the narrow and winding passages inside the vasculature of the brain. The team thinks that the invention could be used in the future to treat people suffering from stroke or aneurysm.
The team behind the invention at MIT says that stroke is the number five killer of people in the US. If an acute stroke can be repaired in the first 90 minutes or so, the survival rate can improve significantly. The robotic thread could help reverse permanent damage.
The team says that medical guidewires used in current treatments are passive and have to be manipulated manually. They are normally made from metallic alloys coated in a polymer. The researchers say that the material could potentially generate friction and damage vessel linings if the wire got stuck in a tight spot.
The core of the robotic thread is made from nickel-titanium alloy that is bendy and springy. The wire would return to its original shape when bent. In testing, the team coated the wire’s core in a rubbery paste or ink that they embedded with magnetic particles.
The team can then use a strong magnet to steer the robotic thread through an obstacle course of small rings, reminiscent of a thread working its way through the eye of a needle. The thread was also coated in a hydrogel that gives it an advantage by making it slippery enough to move through tight spaces. The team also says that since the thread is steerable, the surgeon performing the procedure wouldn’t need to be standing in the room with the patient and could avoid radiation exposure from fluoroscopy equipment.