LONDON: Researchers at the United Kingdom’s University of Leeds have developed a miniature magnetic robot that can enter the lungs and detect the presence of cancerous tumours.
This “magnetic tentacle robot” was designed to reach the smallest bronchial tubes in the lungs, in order to take tissue samples or even to administer a specific anti-cancer treatment, if necessary.
It measures only 2mm in diameter and is guided inside the lungs by large magnets located outside the patient’s body. For the moment, it has only been tested in the laboratory on a 3D replica of a bronchial tree. The next phase of research will be to study the effectiveness of the device in lungs taken from a cadaver.
Currently, this kind of procedure involves introducing a flexible tube-shaped instrument, about 3.5-4mm in diameter, into the lungs through the nose or mouth. This procedure has its limitations, however, as it does not allow the exploration of some of the upper levels of the bronchial tree.
To penetrate deeper into the lungs, a catheter or a thin tube is then passed through the bronchoscope to reach these narrower areas. However, navigation can be difficult, and it is often hard to reach precisely where doctors want to go.
This is exactly why this magnetic robot has been developed: to be able to reach any area of the lungs by being “guided” from the outside, by a clever system of magnets mounted on robotic arms.
According to the researchers, such a robot could be an important clinical tool in the research and treatment of lung cancer, and even other lung diseases.
Ultimately, such technology could also prove easier to use for staff and gentler on patients.
The researchers’ initial findings are published in the journal “Soft Robotics”.