How a slender, snake-like device could give doctors new ways to save lives

How a slender, snake-like device could give doctors new ways to save lives

Wednesday, June 23, 2021 - 6:57pm

By Andrew Snook

You might call it “zoobotics.” Jessica Burgner-Kahrs, the director of the Continuum Robotics Lab at U of T Mississauga, and her team are building very slender, flexible and extensible robots, a few millimetres in diameter, for use in surgery and industry. Unlike humanoid robots, so-called continuum robots feature a long, limbless body – not unlike a snake’s – that allows them to access difficult-to-reach places.

Consider a neurosurgeon who needs to remove a brain tumour. Using a traditional, rigid surgical tool, the surgeon has to reach the cancerous mass by following a straight path into the brain, and risk poking through – and damaging – vital tissue. Burgner-Kahrs envisions a day when one of her snake-like robots, guided by a surgeon, would be able to take a winding path around the vital tissue but still reach the precise surgical site. Previously inoperable brain tumours might suddenly become operable. “It could revolutionize surgery,” she says.

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