Tiny robot hand could revolutionise surgery on unborn babies

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Researchers have placed hope in the development of a tiny device that could be used to treat medical conditions, such as spina bifida, in unborn babies. This £10m project is aimed at the creation of a surgical robot hand which will allow doctors to operate on babies with congenital conditions, in the womb.

The project has received funding from the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust. The research is being conducted by engineers based at KU Leuven in Belgium and the University College London.

Figures indicate that one in 1000 babies are born with myelomeningocele spina bifida, which is caused by incorrect formation of the spine.

The researchers are hoping that they will be able to develop a pincer, and a miniature camera, which can be inserted into the womb. They are hoping that it would allow them to insert patches over the gaps in the spine in a bid to treat the condition.

The instrument they are hoping to create will have 3D endoscopic imaging, which will allow surgeons to view accurate details of the foetus.

Professor Sebastien Ourselin said that the patches will act in the same manner as a plaster and if this procedure is possible, the foetus will gain immensely, with very little risk to the mother.

He said that the device is still in the design stage, which means they could eventually have a device with four or five arms. It may not only be able to place patches where needed, but allow surgeons to undertake delicate surgical procedures or deliver stem cells to damaged organs of the foetus.

Spina bifida normally occurs during the first month of the development of the embryo. The symptoms include incontinence, lower limb paralysis and learning difficulties.

Image Credit: woodleywonderworks

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