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Robotic Device Shows Promise as Soft, Smart Endoscope Tool

Harvard researchers believe their new device may help to facilitate complex procedures.

Published: August 9, 2017

SOFT TOUCH The soft pop-up arm is deployed when the scope's distal end reaches the targeted treatment area.

Today's flexible endoscopes can expertly navigate the twists and turns of the gastrointestinal tract, but their rigid excision and manipulation tools have the potential to injure surrounding tissue. Given the promising results of a newly developed pop-up robotic arm for flexible endoscopes, all that could change.

The new device uses the combination of pop-up technology and soft robotics to facilitate endoscopic procedures. Developed by Harvard University researchers, the soft pop-up arm lies flat while the endoscopist guides the scope through the GI tract, and can be deployed when the scope's distal end reaches the targeted treatment area.

The hybrid device uses a rigid skeleton surrounded by soft materials to protect delicate tissue. Previous manufacturing pop-up technologies were activated by either high voltages or high temperatures, though neither method is feasible in a tool designed to manipulate living organs or tissues. The Harvard researchers solved this dilemma by using soft, water-powered microactuators to deploy the robotic arm.

As detailed in the most recent issue of Advanced Materials Technologies, the research team tested the device by simulating an endoscopic procedure on porcine tissue, which the arm successfully manipulated. Next, the researchers intend to test the device in living organisms.

The researchers demonstrated that the device could be scaled down to 1 millimeter, which would allow it to be used during more complex endoscopic procedures, such lung or brain surgery. Harvard's Office of Technology Development, which has filed a patent application for the technology, is actively seeking opportunities to commercialize the device.

Bill Donahue

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