Researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK and Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in the US, have created an implantable robot for the treatment of a rare birth defect called oesophageal atresia in babies.
The genetic disease is characterised by a gap between the oesophageal parts, hindering the passage of food to the stomach.
Inspired by the existing Foker procedure to correct the disorder, the small robotic device is incorporated with a motor to stimulate cells using sensors by gently pulling on tissue.
The robot uses one type of sensor to monitor tension in the tissue and another kind to measure tissue displacement. The traction applied by the device is dependent on the tissue properties.
Research lead Dr Dana Damian said: “Although the technique is one of the best standards, sometimes the sutures surgeons attach to the oesophagus can tear, which can result in repetitive surgeries or scar tissue can form that can cause problems for the patient in the future.
“The robot we developed addresses this issue because it measures the force being applied and can be adapted at any time throughout the treatment.”
As the implant is powered by a control unit that is attached to a vest outside the body, doctors will be able to monitor the babies without impacting their routine.
The pulling mechanism of the device is intended to result in multiplication of the cells, instead of stretching out of shape or scarring, while its monitoring and control capabilities facilitate the change of treatment based on the patient’s needs.