21 January 2009

New Brain Probe Design Mimics Wood Wasp

Imagine this little probe digging into your brain, tooth by tooth. Like a wood wasp boring into a pine to lay its eggs, a human surgeon will penetrate your brain in search of interesting neuro-treasure. What are you hiding in there?
The researchers have developed a prototype silicon needle consisting of two shafts with 50-micrometre-long fin-shaped teeth. Motors oscillate the two shafts to propel the device forwards in the same way as the wood wasp's ovipositor (see diagram).

...Unlike existing rigid surgical probes, the device will be flexible enough to move along the safest possible route, bypassing high-risk areas of the brain during surgery, for example. It could also reduce the number of incisions needed to deliver cancer therapies to different parts of a tumour, as it can burrow its way to hard-to-reach areas.

Emma Johnson, who works on bio-inspired engineering at the University of Reading, UK, says that the device is likely to be better suited to harder, fibrous tissues like bone and muscle than to soft brain tissue. _NS
Oh, OK, thanks Emma. I was getting a little worried there. ;-)

Better brain probes are certainly on the way. It is important for neuro-clinicians to be able to access deep brain structures without damaging more superficial structures and pathways along the way. A silicon needle might work for rigid structures like bone if it is strong enough and not too brittle. A "silicone" or similarly flexible probe may be more suitable for tissue with the consistency of brain if it can track along a desired path reasonably well. Being able to slip a probe between nerve bundles and around brain nuclei may make for a happier post-surgical aftermath.

Eventually, nano-technological probes will be given most of the intra-cranial exploratory tasks.

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