Inspired by the mechanism used by wasps to dig through wood, scientists have now developed a "brain-boring" robot that burrows its way through tissue, paving way for safer keyhole surgery.
The female wood wasps of the Siricidae family use a needle-like ovipositor to deposit eggs inside pine trees.
"It can insinuate itself into the tissue with the minimum amount of force," New Scientist quoted Ferdinando Rodriguez y Baena at Imperial College London as saying.
And now, researchers including Rodriguez y Baena is trying to create a medical probe based on the same mechanism used by wood wasps.
Scientists have developed a prototype silicon needle, which has two shafts with 50-micrometre-long fin-shaped teeth.
The two shafts oscillate with the help of a motor and thus the device is propelled forward just like a wood wasp's ovipositor.
Scientists have already shown that the device can crawl across the surface of brain-like gels and burrow its way into pig muscle tissue.
However, the device would not be like existing rigid surgical probes. In fact, it will be flexible enough to move along the safest possible route.
For example, it could avoid high-risk areas of the brain during surgery.
As the device can burrow its way to hard-to-reach areas, it could also reduce the number of incisions needed to deliver cancer therapies to different parts of a tumour.
According to Emma Johnson, who works on bio-inspired engineering at the University of Reading, UK, the device might be better suited to harder, fibrous tissues like bone and muscle than to soft brain tissue.
The researchers will present their study at the ROBIO conference in Bangkok, Thailand, in February.