Initially invasive approaches were used to treat sites in the body which were not easily accessible but now endoscopic surgeries has helped physicians overcome that difficulty. But still, there still a lot of potential in reducing the size of existing devices to miniature levels that has the ability to get to even the most challenging regions of the body.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University have been working on just such tools in the hope of revolutionizing needlescopic surgery, the technique of using extremely small instruments within very confined spaces.
Needlescopic surgeries use surgical instruments shrunk to the diameter of a sewing needle which is used primarily for minimally invasive surgery. The needle-sized incisions it requires are so small that they can be sealed with surgical tape and usually heal without leaving a scar.
They had earlier designed a narrow instrument that can be extended to follow a curve, allowing it to reach areas that a straight, rigid instrument cannot. But the major disadvantage was that the instrument could not bend but just move around things. Now they have managed to overcome that difficulty and have introduced tool that can flex and allow actual manipulation of target tissues.
The technique is based on a metal alloy known as nitinol, which has good shape memory properties. Holes in the form of slots are made on one side of the device's shaft and the wire is inserted down the slot. This allows the device to bend, towards the side where the slots are, when the wire is pulled on. Now when the wire is released, the device returns to its original shape.
While the solution is pretty simple, it goes a long way to overcoming limitations that existing solutions have in being able to be scaled down to such a small level. The researchers expect that initial application of this technology will be for transnasal operations on the brain.