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See magnetic tentacles that crawl into lungs in recent cancer treatment advancement

A University of Leeds STORM Lab research team created a concept robot that can crawl into ‘the smallest bronchial tubes’ to collect tissue samples and possibly deliver cancer treatments. 

While this is still a concept, the team created a 3-D replica of a bronchial tree and successfully tested their robot in it. They will further test its application by using the device to navigate lungs from a cadaver.

The magnetic tentacle robot is about 2 millimetres in diameter and barely twice as big as a ballpoint pen. Magnets from outside the patient’s body will be used to control.

The innovation aims to overcome challenges that bronchoscopes face — because of its size, the instrument can only get as far as the upper levels of the bronchial tree. This tool is not enough to properly examine the lungs and air passages, collect tissue samples, etc. In addition, doctors cannot maneuver a bronchoscope easily.

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“Our system uses an autonomous magnetic guidance system which does away for the need for patients to be X-rayed while the procedure is carried out,” Professor Pietro Valdastri, Director of the STORM Lab who supervised the research said in Soft Robotics journal.

See magnetic tentacles crawl into lungs in cancer treatment advancement
A life-size 3-D bronchial lung tree (left) and the Magnetic tentacle robot (right) compared in size. Source: University of Leeds.

The full-sized device is about 80 millimetres in length and broken into a series of 2 millimetres interlinked cylinders. Each segment can move independently, and pre-operative scans of a patient’s lungs allow specialists to plan routes through the bronchial tree before using the device.

Despite appearing to be ready, it might take some years before the device is available in hospitals around you. There are still lots of things to do before it is ready.

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Onwuasoanya Obinna

A reader of books and stringer of words. Passionate about Science and Tech. When not writing or reading he is surfing the web and Tweeting.