'Octopus tentacles' make future operations more flexible

December 19, 2013, Delft University of Technology
‘Octopus tentacles’ make future operations more flexible
Artists impression of a flexible and steerable surgical instrument. Credit: Tim Krijger

The rigidity of current surgical instruments means it is sometimes only possible to remove part of a brain tumour. Limitations such as these led Professor Paul Breedveld to develop a fundamentally new class of flexible surgical instruments, inspired by the anatomy of octopus tentacles. In his inaugural address on Wednesday 11 December, Prof. Breedveld will include an animation showing how an operation with this new type of instrument will be performed.

Nature follows spectacular design paths that are often very different from human technology, but which lead to elegant and surprisingly smart solutions. The discipline of biomimicry studies nature and tries to copy ideas from it to arrive at new technological discoveries. 'But mere copying also leads to limitations and is not the best way to use biological ingenuity optimally,' explains Prof. Paul Breedveld in his inaugural address as professor at TU Delft.

Octopuses

Breedveld would therefore prefer to talk about bio-inspired research than about biomimicry. He himself is focusing on the development of a fundamentally new class of flexible for minimally invasive surgery (keyhole surgery). 'Using the anatomy of octopus tentacles, we are currently producing the thinnest (diameter of 0.9 and less) and most flexible steerable instruments in the world.'

The tentacles of an octopus are made up of an ingenious composition of muscles which work together in various layers, rings, bundles and packages. Breedveld's early instruments were based on a single ring of steel cables surrounded by coiled springs, whereas the new instruments are based on a so-called dendritic mechanism, with branched extensions. They consist of a flexible stem which ends in a number of manoeuvrable arms. Each arm is made up of a densely structured package of flexible steering elements. The instruments also possess shape memory, therefore they 'know' where we have been.

The queen of surgery

TU Delft plays a leading international role in this scientific-technological field and as such Breedveld sets the bar high, focusing as he does on surgery. 'Due to its level of complexity, skull base surgery is also known as the queen of surgery. If we know how to make good flexible instruments for this type of surgery, we should also be able to do so for the rest,' says Breedveld.

Currently, is still being carried out with rigid instruments. 'This has its limitations,' explains Breedveld. 'The rigidity of the instruments means it is sometimes only possible to remove part of a , simply because it cannot be reached. This problem no longer exists with flexible, snakelike instruments.'

'The ultimate goal is to make an advance in surgical practice, whereby complex operations are performed through just a single small incision that can be chosen independent of the location of the area of the operation.'

Steps

Breedveld is working closely on the development of his instruments with doctors and researchers from the AMC (Endoscopic Skull Base Surgery Centre Amsterdam, ESA). 'Doctors will also have to learn how to use this whole new class of instruments. That is one of the reasons why it will be some time before these flexible instruments become universal in surgical practice,' says Breedveld. 'A number of important steps still need to be taken before we reach this stage. Nevertheless, the medical industry is already showing great interest.'

Explore further: With the surgical robot, similar outcomes at a higher cost

Related Stories

With the surgical robot, similar outcomes at a higher cost

December 18, 2013
In a study of national data on colon surgery, Johns Hopkins researchers found that while patients who undergo either minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery or the high-tech robotic approach have similar outcomes, robotic ...

Robot-inserted needles and catheters

December 2, 2013
Researchers at the UPM are involved in the design of a robotic arm for precise guidance of the insertion of needles, catheters and surgical instruments in procedures of minimally invasive surgery.

Robotic flexible endoscope kinder to doctor, patient and finances

September 4, 2013
This is a flexible endoscope which can be operated by one person, instead of by two or three, as is often the case with the current endoscopes. PhD candidate in Industrial Design, Jeroen Ruiter, University of Twente, designed ...

Marking ten years of surgical robots (in a theatre near you)

November 18, 2013
A spider-like robot moves over an anaesthetised patient, deftly making controlled incisions with flexible arms while a surgeon sitting a couple of metres away peers through a console offering highly-magnified, high definition, ...

Brainy biomechanics for safer brain surgery

December 18, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Patients undergoing brain surgery are likely to benefit from a new technique that can help neurosurgeons predict how the brain will move during operations.

Johns Hopkins surgeons among the first in the country to perform a robotic single-site hysterectomy

May 30, 2013
Two Johns Hopkins gynecologic surgeons are among the first in the nation to perform a robotic hysterectomy using a single, small incision.

Recommended for you

Drug may help surgical patients stop opioids sooner

December 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Opioid painkillers after surgery can be the first step toward addiction for some patients. But a common drug might cut the amount of narcotics that patients need, a new study finds.

Children best placed to explain facts of surgery to patients, say experts

December 13, 2017
Getting children to design patient information leaflets may improve patient understanding before they have surgery, finds an article in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Burn victim saved by skin grafts from identical twin (Update)

November 23, 2017
A man doomed to die after suffering burns across 95 percent of his body was saved by skin transplants from his identical twin in a world-first operation, French doctors said Thursday.

Is a common shoulder surgery useless?

November 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—New research casts doubt on the true effectiveness of a common type of surgery used to ease shoulder pain.

Study shows electric bandages can fight biofilm infection, antimicrobial resistance

November 6, 2017
Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have shown - for the first time - that special bandages using weak electric fields to disrupt bacterial biofilm infection can prevent infections, combat antibiotic ...

Obesity increases incidence, severity, costs of knee dislocations

November 3, 2017
A new study of more than 19,000 knee dislocation cases in the U.S. between 2000 and 2012 provides a painful indication of how the nation's obesity epidemic is changing the risk, severity and cost of a traumatic injury.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.