When a person has a blood clot in certain parts of the brain, surgeons must weigh the pros and cons of whether going its removal is worth the potential damage that might occur to the surrounding tissue. That delicate dilemma is why researchers at Vanderbilt University have designed a special robot that could suction away blood clots, while minimizing damage to the brain.
The university said this new robotic surgical system uses “steerable needles” that can go around corners and reach places where surgeons previously couldn’t easily access. With a surgeon’s guidance, the robot makes a very small opening in the brain and then can be guided using medical imaging (e.g. CT scans). Then, the needles can reach right into a brain hemorrhage and suck out the blood clot from within.
The system consists of a straight outer tube and a curved inner tube that are both less than one-twentieth of an inch in diameter, according to researchers at Vanderbilt. Once the needles reach the clot, a pump is turned on to act like a vacuum, sucking out the clotted material. So far the researchers have successfully tested this needle system on phantom gelatin clots in a model (pictured above), and it removed 92% of the material.
“The trickiest part of the operation comes after you have removed a substantial amount of the clot,” Robert Webster, one of the Vanderbilt researchers, said in a news release. “External pressure can cause the edges of the clot to partially collapse making it difficult to keep track of the clot’s boundaries.”
The Vanderbilt researchers say that bleeding into the brain — known as a “intracerebral hemorrhage” — is actually a common medical problem: there is a one in 50 chance it could happen in a person’s lifetime. The hemorrhage can cause serious brain damage and 40% of those affected end up dying within a month. With the work the researchers are doing, they hope to reduce that mortality rate to zero.
The university said a future project could combine ultrasound imaging with “a computer model of how brain tissue deforms,” to make sure all the clot material is taken out “safely” and “effectively.”