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Needle-steering robot could save lives

Researchers turn to an unusual robot for new method of treating blood clots in the brain.

Blood clot robot
This robot could save lives threatened by blood clots in the brain.
Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Blood clots in the brain are a growing health problem with devastating effects. These clots have a 40 percent mortality rate, and survivors can suffer from brain damage. Treatment is extremely challenging, but researchers at Vanderbilt University hope a new robot will be able to help. The bot uses a steerable needle to clear out clots.

Doctors often avoid operating on brain blood clots due to their tricky location and the risk of causing collateral damage. The robot, however, needs only a small opening to do its work. It can be guided by ultrasound or CT imaging to the targeted spot in the brain where it sucks out the clot. The needle extends like a telescope and is curved to navigate bends.

The steerable needles have been in development at Vanderbilt for several years, with a team of both engineers and physicians working on the project. Originally, the system was designed to reach brain tumors, but the team realized it could be effective for clots as well.

The robot is in prototype form. The researchers have been testing the technology on fake clots using gelatin models. The ultimate goal is to get the machine into the hands of neurosurgeons to reduce the mortality rate from intracerebral hemorrhages.

Check out the video to see the "clotbot" in action on a model brain.