Smart Needle Could Revolutionize Neurosurgery

One of the reasons we’ve been able to preform more minimally invasive operations on spines, nerves and tumors is because medical science has been able to develop tiny cameras to allow surgeons to view inside a person’s body without creating a large opening to access the surgical site. It’s relatively easy to stick a fiber-optic camera the size of a straw into an opening on a person’s back and fix their disc issue, but you can’t stick that same camera into someone’s brain during a neurological operation.

A surgeon needs to have precise movements during an operation, but it’s of the utmost importance during a brain surgery. One tiny movement in the wrong direction can puncture a blood vessel and cause death. Surgeons have guidance tools to assist them during surgery, but the invention of a neurological “smart needle” may soon revolutionize how certain brain operations are performed.

The Smart Needle

The smart needle is a tiny camera that fits inside of a brain biopsy needle. It’s no larger than the average strand of human hair, and it transmits imaging data in real time to a computer. This data allows surgeons to detect “at-risk” blood vessels during a biopsy procedure which allows them to avoid delicate brain tissue when examining a tumor.

“We call it a smart needle,” said Professor Robert McLaughlin, chair of biophotonics at the University of Adelaide in the South Australia. “It contains a tiny fiber-optic camera, the size of a human hair, shining infrared light to see the vessels before the needle can damage them. And what’s really exciting is the computer smarts behind this so that the computer itself recognizes the blood vessel and alerts the surgeon.”

Testing Ongoing

The smart needle is still in its experimental stage, but so far the results have been promising. 12 patients have undergone surgery using the smart needle, and medical experts believe it may provide us with safer surgery outcomes in the near future.

“To have a tool that can see blood vessels as we proceed through the brain would revolutionize neurosurgery,” said trial lead and consulting neurosurgeon Professor Christopher Lind at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and the University of Western Australia. “It will open the way for safer surgery, allowing us to do things we’ve not been able to do before.”

If the trials prove successful, don’t be surprised if the technology makes its way across the pond to the U.S. For more information on the smart needle, check out this two-minute video on the device.

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