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Back to News Americas Patient mockup of surgical robot designed to treat epilepsy by entering the brain through the cheek. (Photograph: Laboratory for the Design and Control of Energetic Systems / Vanderbilt)
Oct 23, 2014 | News Americas

New device enables brain surgery through the cheek

by Surgical Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn., USA: In order to render brain surgery for epileptic seizure less invasive, researchers at Vanderbilt University in the U.S. have developed a robotic device that could enable neurosurgeons to operate on an epileptic patient's brain using nothing more than a needle through the cheek.

Conventionally, epilepsy is treated surgically by drilling through the skull to reach the hippocampus, which is located at the bottom of the brain, and to destroy the small area where the seizures originate. This procedure, however, is highly invasive and dangerous, and involves a long recovery period, the researchers explained. Therefore, they developed a working prototype that enters the brain from underneath via the cheek. This avoids drilling and is much closer to the target area, they said.

The device contains a 1.14 mm nickel-titanium needle with concentric tubes, some of which are curved, that can be precisely steered along the curved path into the brain. In addition, the researchers have developed a robotic platform that can operate inside the magnetic field created by an MRI scanner. Thus, surgeons can track the exact position of the tip with successive MRI scans during the operation.

Currently, neuroscientists use the through-the-cheek approach to implant electrodes in the brain to track brain activity and identify where epileptic fits originate. However, the straight needles currently in use can only be guided manually and cannot reach the source region. "To have a system with a curved needle and unlimited access would make also major surgeries minimally invasive," said Dr. Joseph S. Neimat, associate professor of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The device, much of which can be made using 3-D printing, has been tested successfully in the laboratory already and the researchers are currently planning to test it with cadavers. They believe that the system could be marketed within the next decade.

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