DURHAM, N.C. Bioengineers at Duke University have developed a laboratory robot that can successfully locate tiny pieces of metal within flesh and guide a needle to its exact location - all without the need for human assistance.
The successful proof-of-feasibility experiments lead the researchers to believe that in the future, such a robot could not only help treat shrapnel injuries on the battlefield, but might also be used for such medical procedures as placing and removing radioactive "seeds" used in the treatment of prostate and other cancers.
In their latest experiments, the engineers started with a rudimentary tabletop robot whose "eyes" are a novel 3-D ultrasound technology developed at Duke. An artificial intelligence program served as the robot's "brain" by taking the real-time 3-D information, processing it and giving the robot specific commands to perform. In their simulations, the researchers used tiny (2 millimeter) pieces of needle because, like shrapnel, they are subject to magnetism.
"We attached an electromagnet to our 3-D probe, which caused the shrapnel to vibrate just enough that its motion could be detected," said A.J. Rogers, who just completed an undergraduate degree in bioengineering at Duke. "Once the shrapnel's coordinates were established by the computer, it successfully guided a needle to the site of the shrapnel."
By proving that the robot could guide a needle to an exact location, it would simply be a matter of replacing the needle probe with a tiny tool, such as a grabber, the researchers said.
Rogers worked in the laboratory of Stephen Smith, director of the Duke University Ultrasound Transducer Group and senior member of the research team. The results of the experiments were published early online in the July issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control.
Since the researchers achieved positive results using a rudimentary r
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