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Surgical Microbot Developed 102

An anonymous reader writes to mention a Wired article about the first surgical nanobot developed for practical use. No wider that two human hairs, the machine is intended to swim through arteries and the digestive tract, and can perform surgical procedures in spaces no bigger than 250 microns. The article also addresses safety concerns; the bot will swim upstream from blood flow, so if something goes wrong it can be retrieved on its way back. Likewise, for the most delicate procedures it can be fitted with a tether, to ensure it doesn't get lost. From the article: "The tiny robot, small enough to pass through the heart and other organs, will be inserted using a syringe. Guided by remote control, it will swim to a site within the body to perform a series of tasks, then return to the point of entry where it can be extracted, again by syringe. For example, the microrobot might deliver a payload of expandable glue to the site of a damaged cranial artery -- a procedure typically fraught with risk because posterior human brain arteries lay behind a complicated set of bends at the base of the skull beyond the reach of all but the most flexible catheters."
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Surgical Microbot Developed

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  • welcome (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:27AM (#17680288)
    I for one welcome our surgical microbot overlords.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      While some people may be getting tired of these 'overlords' jokes, I, for one, welcome our 'overlords' joke-making overlords.
    • by Dabido ( 802599 )
      These ones come with Surgical Lasers on their firggin' heads!
  • . . .so now they're going to take over my body from within?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TheMadcapZ ( 868196 )
      The bad part of this robot is if the tether snaps, or loses power and ends up in the brain. Stroke and lawsuit city!!!!
      • Re:great. . . (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jdray ( 645332 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:48AM (#17680580) Homepage Journal

        I was wondering about that myself. Any ideas on how to guard against that?

        Realistically, any sort of circulatory system surgery has the potential to knock loose a piece of plaque that can end up in your brain, and this beats the heck out of having a medical snake run up one of your arteries (a friend of mine had heart surgery; they went in through her thigh in a one-inch incision).

        Also, on a tether, you could feed the thing power so it could do longer, more complex surgeries.

        • by w33t ( 978574 )
          Also, on a tether, you could feed the thing power so it could do longer, more complex surgeries.


          I think that wireless power would be the source of choice for an internally operating surgical robot.
        • by cong06 ( 1000177 )
          It sounds more like batteries, or some kind of internal power.
      • Re:great. . . (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Daemonstar ( 84116 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @10:04AM (#17680818)
        Ya, possibly, but there's no more risk than having your body cut open and worked on by people. Surgery is surgery. :)
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by jahudabudy ( 714731 )
        I'm not a doctor, and have no official medical training. But I believe the blood brain barrier [wikipedia.org] tends to prevent this sort of thing. Also, TFA doesn't mention the composition of the bot, but it could theoretically be built using materials that eventually breakdown in the body, further reducing this risk.
        • by xappax ( 876447 )
          I'm also not a doctor, so perhaps I should wait for someone more informed to respond, but I'm pretty sure that the blood brain barrier prevents molecule-sized particles from crossing from the bloodstream into the brain. So it might be effective against tiny toxic molecules, but not against a largish chunk of plaque or micro-bot.

          The concern is that the bot will clog up a blood vessel, stopping or severely limiting blood flow to an area of the brain. Unfortunately, it would only take a very short time for
          • I'm also not a doctor, so perhaps I should wait for someone more informed to respond

            Hey, I'm not gonna complain. Intelligent, reasonable responses are rare enough; I'm not so greedy as to expect actual expertise as well. :-)

            As for the blood brain barrier being less effective at blocking larger particles, I'm not sure I get that. My understanding is that it is basically a porous membrane that filters the blood. How can it filter smaller particles while letting larger particles through?

            TFA mentioned
            • Re:great. . . (Score:4, Informative)

              by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:31AM (#17682180)
              I do have medical training, so let me explain:

              The blood-brain barrier has to do with the tighter junctions between the cells that form blood vessel walls, which prevents diffusion of most larger molecules into the brain, and prevents migration of cells into the brain. This is how the brain becomes an immunologically-priviledged site.

              The blood-brain barrier does not affect the LUMEN of the blood vessels - only their LINING. Thus, it does not have any role in filtering particles within the bloodstream itself. So it cannot prevent an object from being stuck in a small artery or arteriole, obstructing blood flow and causing a stroke.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Thansal ( 999464 )
        The bad part of this robot is if the tether snaps, or loses power and ends up in the brain. Stroke and lawsuit city!!!!

        the bot will swim upstream from blood flow, so if something goes wrong it can be retrieved on its way back

        I tihnk the idea is that if somethign does fug up it simply will wash back to the point of origin because it will flow WITH the blood. Think of putting a motor boat in a swiftly flowing river, have it putter up stream, then cut the engines and watch as it comes back.
      • They cover that in TFA. The make it swim upstream against the bloodflow, so if it loses power it drifts back to the original entry point for extraction.
        Even the most sophisticated motor can break down, and then what?

        "It is indeed something we're concerned about," Friend said. That's why the scientists plan to swim the robot against the current of the blood, so if it loses power it will return to the point of entry."


        Or they could really Fantastic Voyage it and have it go for the tear ducts in the eye
  • Tenses (Score:1, Informative)

    Summary: Developed TFA: Developing
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      mod parent up.
      C'mon, editor dudes, spreading lies can be the fact of laziness, this is just dishonest summarization
  • Just keep Donald Pleasence away from the controls.
  • by TinBromide ( 921574 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:33AM (#17680362)
    Isn't this too big to be a nanobot?

    Anywho, i wonder if they'll hook this sucker up to a joystick for real time control, anyone played ballistics? Like that only instead of breaking the speed of sound, you try not to cripple someone for life, for real!!!

    I give it 2 thumbs up... 2 thumbs... well, one thumb and a hand twich...
    • I imagine they are calling it a "nanobot" because if the whole of it is roughly 2 human hairs (~200 micrometers) you would have to imagine its surgical bits to be a little smaller, perhaps passing into the nanometer range. That would, of course, be a stretch, as these tools would have to be 1/1000th the size of the entirety of the device. Maybe its covered in nanotubes and could plug holes.

      Nano is also marktspck for "Really Small, Buy Me!" passing the other test for nanotechnology.

      On another point, my fin
    • No, this isn't too big to be a bot made with nanotechnology (a 'nanobot') and dealing with things at a nanometer scale. You could have something like that the size of a human, a jet plane, a city, etc. It is, however, too clunky to be a nanobot. Nanotechnology deals with something being built with precision at the nanometer scale... each atom in proper place.

      Take, for a boring but perfectly valid example, steel. Normally you would melt things down and mold it or bang it into shape. Microscopic cracks and bu
  • Summary wrong (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SNR monkey ( 1021747 )
    Can you really call something a nanobot if it is 250 microns wide? Seems like this 'nanobot' is a few orders of magnitude too large(Wikipedia says nanobots [wikipedia.org] are typically devices ranging in size from 0.1-10 micrometres).
    • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )
      250 microns? That's a huge amount of space for the nanobot to work in! You can't even get readings that far away on DRADIS.

      Oh wait, this is not in Caprican units? Nevermind.
  • some perl (Score:5, Funny)

    by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:34AM (#17680380) Homepage
    use Jokes::Std::Beowulf;
    use Jokes::Std::Overlords::Robotic;
  • That's optimism! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lazerf4rt ( 969888 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:35AM (#17680386)

    The article:

    An international team of scientists is developing what they say will be the world's first microrobot... While others have tried and failed to create microrobots for arterial travel, Friend believes his team will succeed...

    The Slashdot headline:

    Surgical Microbot Developed.
    • by niconorsk ( 787297 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:39AM (#17680428)
      You mean Slashdot articles are sometimes inaccurate and sensationalist. Quickly, inject me with some nanobots to calm my central nervous system before I go into paralyzing shock.
    • If it would have existed, that would be amazing.. How on earth are they going to power the thing? It's nice to make it small, but to let it swim up against the bloodstream I don't think a 'nanobattery' will do. And then we're not yet talking about transmitting images!

      I'd love to be proven wrong, but my engineering gut feeling tells me it cannot be done.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Is it me of have /. headlines been getting very dubious lately. Just take 'Bill to Treat Bloggers as Lobbyists Defeated' as an example of a dubious headline for today (there have been many more this week).
  • Old news (Score:3, Funny)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:36AM (#17680402) Journal
    Nanomachines have already been used to perform surgery. For example, Dr. Victor Niguel developed them to attack the Pempti strain in 2018.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yes, and Dennis Quaid was already there in 1987. [imdb.com]
  • The new bit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Silver Sloth ( 770927 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:40AM (#17680460)
    Once you separate the wheat from the chaff in TFA the new tech is

    The microrobot's design is based on the E. coli bacterium, complete with flagella that will propel it through the body. Scientists will make the flagella out of human hair in the preliminary research stages, and eventually they want to try using Kevlar.

    The theory behind the microrobot's propulsion system is modeled after turbine and helicopter blades, Friend said.

    "In and of itself, the idea is not especially new, but it has always fallen down around the propulsion system," he said.
    So, at the end of the day, what we have is another step towards a working microbot, not the finished product.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The microrobot's design is based on the E. coli bacterium, complete with flagella that will propel it through the body. Scientists will make the flagella out of human hair in the preliminary research stages, and eventually they want to try using Kevlar.


      So, they expect things to be hairy to begin with and then turn bulletproof? And it's modeled after one of our most problematic bacteria? Guess we all better eat our spinach.
  • ...that you think will never actually happen, but it does. While the ones that seem possible don't (flying cars, etc.).
    • While the ones that seem possible don't (flying cars, etc.).

      Technological progress is funny like that. If you traveled back and time and tried to explain the internet, laptops, or cell phones to people in the 1950s they would most likely shrug and say "Who would use a thing like that!"

      That and futurists often concoct ideas without thinking of social ramifications.

      Imagine the accident and death toll related to flying cars and drunk driving for example.
      • "Imagine the accident and death toll related to flying cars and drunk driving for example."

        I would actually imagine it would be less, due to having thousands of times more area to "drive" in than being confined to lanes and roads. Besides, they never had any problems on the Jetsons...


        And calculate in that by the time flying cars are prevalent, alcohol will be long gone and we will all be enjoying Spice...
  • by daigu ( 111684 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:43AM (#17680508) Journal
    For example, the microrobot might deliver a payload of expandable glue to the site of a damaged cranial artery -- a procedure typically fraught with risk because posterior human brain arteries lay behind a complicated set of bends at the base of the skull beyond the reach of all but the most flexible catheters.

    Getting beyond the "bends at the base of the skull" through the arteries is a surgical field called Neuroendovascular Surgery that has been in development since the 1960s [ajnr.org] and is used on everyone from babies [post-gazette.com] to the old to people with cocaine habits and so forth. If I had an illiness that required it, I'd take a surgeon who performs several hundred of these operations a year over a remote controlled robot.

    • by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @10:20AM (#17681074)
      However, once the robot is proven, the surgeon who *used* to perform hundreds of these operations, now performs twice as many but uses a fancy remote controller instead of his old wiggly catheter.

      Once upon a time, these operations would be performed using a bit of sharp flint after a song and dance round the fire while stoned out of your head on mushroom juice. Things move on, don't worry about them.

      • by daigu ( 111684 )

        There is a feel component to this type of surgery. I'm not saying that a remote controlled device won't provide benefits or may not be used in certain circumstances. However, there are parameters such as it is easy for foreign objects to form clots in the brain that will kill you, aneurysms are filled using platinum coils (so it would have to be able to deliver them in small spaces with blood flow), some techniques like spinal vertebroplasty require a significant amount of glue that tends to set fairly quic

    • by KKlaus ( 1012919 )
      I don't know why. Would you choose the world's best samurai to fight an f-14? Technology can make a huge difference.
  • Now to only get a tiny human to pilot the robot ship like Innerspace...
  • Best of all... (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by OglinTatas ( 710589 )
    best of all, the robot won't freak out and go all Ginsu on your penis! [stuff.co.nz]
  • Here is yet another science fiction creation that is on its way to being real. In another couple of years, reading science fiction (on a flexible screen PDA) will be the guide for how stock traders invest.
  • by your_mother_sews_soc ( 528221 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:57AM (#17680714)
    Thirty years or so ago I loved the idea of having Raquel Welch swimming around in my body. Have you seen her lately? She's probably the reason I need my arteries un-clogged in the first place.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dpilot ( 134227 )
      No, I haven't seen here lately. Do you realize that most /.ers are probably to young to even know who she is, let alone remember her?
      • You must be new here. The rest of us remembers.
    • by bmajik ( 96670 )
      Thirty years or so ago I loved the idea of having Raquel Welch swimming around in my body.


      You were pretty forward thinking I guess.

      Presumably, most people get excited about the inverse scenario.
    • She's probably the reason I need my arteries un-clogged in the first place.

      you dolt! that's not what I meant by 'eating a girl'.
    • I loved the idea of having Raquel Welch swimming around in my body.

      Frankly, most of my fantasies about Raquel Welch involved me swimming around in Raquel Welch.

  • abl (Score:1, Funny)

    Yeaah,

    But do they run Linux?

    Could not resist the urge...

  • No wider that two human hairs, the machine is intended to swim through arteries and the digestive tract

    Trinity: We think you're bugged.... Try and relax.... Come on. Come on.
    Switch: It's on the move.
    Trinity: Shit.
    Switch: You're going to loose it.
    Trinity: No I'm not. Clear.
    Neo: Jesus Christ, that thing's real?
  • Does anyone remember a computer game from the 1980s where you'd pilot a probe through a human body, zapping bacteria and plaques with a laser, dispensing drugs for various emergent conditions, and eventually traveling to the brain to destroy a tumor? I can't remember the name of it.

    I played that game for hours when I was a kid. My wife is a doctor and she's surprised when I can whip out some medical vocabulary that I learned from that game.
  • the microrobot might deliver a payload of expandable glue to the site of a damaged cranial artery

    I have an AVM in my hypothalamus, so I may have to have this done in the next few years. I hope they get this thing perfected soon!
  • the bot will swim upstream from blood flow,

    That must take some mighty swimming prowess for something so small. Like me swimming up against Niagara Falls.

  • BSOD... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dbatkins ( 958906 )
    Takes on a whole new meaning when your nanobot craps out.
  • 'expect to have a prototype by..." does NOT equal "...have developed..." which implies a working nano-sized tool.

    This is almost as good as politicians standing up for election spouting all their "projects" they plan to implement with our dollars once we elect them to be our overlords.
  • It would be great if Martin Short had them put one of these robots in him and made a documentary on it. I'd watch it.
  • I guess this is a good time to refresh our memories about what Mr Joy wrote about oh so many years ago... http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.htm l [wired.com]
  • by neo ( 4625 )
    In an effort help with police crowd control, scientist have inject all newborns with Brain-Bombs what can either be activated to stun perpetrators or in extreme situations kill them. Each Brain-Bomb is encoded with a special ID tag that is a carefully modified version of the babies SSN (MD5 hash). There is only minimal risk that any two people might have the same number.

    The President applauded the new measure and said he would "like to take measures to have everyone in the country fitted with such devices
  • Can airport security use these to infiltrate and scan luggage, clothes, and people without knowledge. Can nanobots patrol the womb and prevent impregnation or maybe even std? Can a cloud of nanobots work together to clean airborne illness, flu, or whatever out of the air around sick people. Can a cloud of nanobots be dispatched to infect or disintegrate a person. Will nanobots be used to monitor and control the population. Knowing that stimulating certain parts of the brain has a direct reaction to a person
  • Reminds of the science fiction short story "Deep Safari" by Charles Sheffield (originally printed in Asimov's [amazon.com], reprinted along with Georgia On My Mind [amazon.com]), about adventure and romance in a virtual reality controlled nanobot stuck in the brain. At really small scales, quantum effects and the body's own Electromagnetic interference can screw things up.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "While others have tried and failed to create microrobots for arterial travel, Friend believes his team will succeed because they really need the money and have already spent far too much time on the project to just give up."
  • (shameless plug) My book, Cyberchild [smartalix.com], is about medical microbots being developed for brain computing systems getting out of the lab and causing interesting things to happen in the outside world. (/shameless plug).
  • I've seen too many sci-fi movies where the little robot gets stuck somewhere and lives in one of my organs forever or deveops its own intelligence and hacks your arteries to pieces......remote control or no! that thing could get lost in there! No thanks! and not to mention, I hate injections. I'd rather be unconcious and they can slice into me that way!

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