Medical robotic 'snake' could save lives

Jerusalem Post:

A snake is probably the last thing you'd ever want crawling around your heart. But in the case of a new American-Israeli invention called the CardioARM, this medical "snake" device may one day save your life.

The new Israeli-American invention came by way of some brainstorming between Israel's Dr. Alon Wolf and his American colleague Prof. Howie Choset, when Wolf was working as a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in the US.

"Both Howie and myself are experts in snake robotics," says Wolf, who is now based at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. "We are working with robotic snakes for search and rescue operations. So we started in the back of our minds thinking: If we can send snakes to crawl inside buildings to look for survivors, then why can't we send the same snake inside our body to fix it?"

A few weeks later, Choset and Wolf had a eureka moment, and found a way to design a robotic snake small enough, strong enough and flexible enough to fit inside the human body. They partnered with the world-renowned Italian surgeon Prof. Marco Zenati, now at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and formed Cardiorobotics and their first snake-based device, the CardioARM.


What the new CardioARM does is open up a whole new world, a field where open-heart surgeries can be done with a small incision; where recovery time will be reduced and hospital-related infections and complications due to surgery drastically cut down.

Most of all, though, Wolf suspects, it will allow specialists to perform more complex medical procedures. "There are specialists and there are surgeons. In between specialists and surgeons there is a twilight zone - we are trying to bridge this zone," he says.


Besides bypass surgeries on the heart, the CardioARM, or a modification of it, could be applied in the areas of laparoscopy, colonoscopy, and arthroscopy, say developers. Like playing a video game, the CardioArm is controlled by a joystick and gives 103 degrees of freedom, and can wrap around organs like the heart until it finds the problematic tissue.


Will the video game be far behind? It sounds like breakthrough technology and I suspect training surgeons to use it could be interesting. I hope I never need it, but for those who do it will be welcome. So far it has been tested on pigs and worked successfully.

That raises the interesting question of whether the Palestinians would allow it to be used to save their lives, not to mention would they have ever conceived the device to begin with.


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