Hong Kong inventor helps develop tiny robot that will do brain surgery

Hong Kong dentist says wire he uses at work can carry out non-invasive surgery

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 December, 2014, 7:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 December, 2014, 7:46am

A pair of Hong Kong-Israeli researchers is developing a miniature robot that allows minimally invasive brain surgery.

Professor Moshe Shoham, of the Israel Institute of Technology, has been researching and incubating some of the world's cutting-edge medical robotic technologies for two decades.

Four of its projects have already matured from the laboratory and been launched by start-up companies, while several have proved profitable in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and India.

The institute is now working on a miniaturised robotic brain surgeon, offering a minimally invasive procedure that would be a medical breakthrough.

Prototypes have been built, and Shoham said the project was about two years from maturity.

The robot would be inserted in the brain after surgeons have drilled a hole in the skull only 3mm wide.

Craniotomy - surgical removal of part of the skull - would be unnecessary, with only local anaesthetic needed.

A precision excision would be programmed by computer, with neurosurgeons controlling the robotic probe.

Dr Ng Tze-chuen, a Hong Kong-based inventor who has worked on the project, said the robot would not only be able to cut out cancerous tissue, but also have irrigation, medication, suction, fibre-optic, and cell micro-impedance measurement functions, too.

It will carry all the features of a full surgical operating theatre - compressed down into a 4-6mm probe.

The probe will follow the geometry of a tumour identified on a CAT scan - determining its edges by testing tiny differences in the electrical impedance of cancer cells and healthy cells.

Ng, an orthodontist by day, had the idea that surgery could be carried out using a "shape memory" nickel titanium wire - something he uses in his job.

"TC has made a number of inspired suggestions," Shoham said.

The wire can curve or angle and also return to its original shape. A current passed through the wire heats it so it can cut tissue like a knife cutting through butter.

This conventional heat energy incision does minimal damage to surrounding tissues, unlike X-ray or laser treatments.

Surgeons can suck unwanted tissue out through the probe.

It will be possible to treat tumours of up to 5cm in diameter in this way, and it will not leave malignant tissue in the brain or damage healthy tissue.

After the operation, the patient could simply go home the same day, Shoham said.

However, patients that would like to be observed after brain surgery could stay for observation, he said.