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Cutting-edge needles promise more accuracy in medical procedures

Cutting-edge needles promise more accuracy in medical procedures

Scientists at Washington State University are creating waterjet-based, steerable needles that could give doctors more accuracy and control and reduce tissue damage in many common, non-invasive medical procedures.

John Swensen, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and graduate students Mahdieh Babaiasl and Fan Yang were part of a WSU team that recently co-authored a paper on steerable needles, which was published in the 2019 International Symposium on Medical Robotics (ISMR)

“Our needles have the potential to improve treatments that you can’t reach with traditional straight needles,” Babaiasl said.

For many medical procedures, doctors would like to have bendable, steerable needles to get to their targets. In fact, in a little trick of the trade, doctors will sometimes bend their needles by hand when trying to access a tricky spot, such as when giving a nerve block for back pain. Another problematic procedure for doctors is liver biopsies. When the area to be biopsied lies under the lungs, for instance, the needle must go through the chest cavity.

Waterjet technology has been used for decades in many industries, such as mining and manufacturing.

Swensen’s team developed a technology that uses a controllable waterjet nozzle at the tip of the needle to delicately cut through tissue. After the tissue is cut by the water jet, the bendable, flexible needle can follow the tissue fracture to its destination. In their study, the researchers looked at how the waterjet-based system performed using different nozzle widths, water pressures, and with different tissue stiffness. They recently filed for a patent.

Researchers testing a waterjet-based steerable needle. Their technique could decrease time taken for procedures, in some cases reducing the time taken for procedures by more than half. In addition, the accuracy generated by this technology means the needles can cut through tissue while keeping surrounding blood vessels intact.

In addition to allowing doctors to make turns, the waterjet needles create less friction than straight needles and cause less buckling of the needle and tearing of the surrounding tissue. Check out a video of the needle in action.

In the future, a nurse or doctor sitting in another room could control the needles with something like a video game console, Swensen said.

“Such needles also reduce the need to have precise manual hand-eye coordination,” he added.

Swensen and his team are currently testing their needle technology on artificial tissue made from an elastic polymer that mimics many of the physical properties of biological tissues and will soon begin experiments on real tissue.

Materials provided by Washington State University

bacteriophage attack cell

Teenage girl saved from fatal infection by genetically engineered virus

In the 21st century, medical advancements have reached greater heights and continue to achieve new feats and higher levels of research has enabled scientists to scale greater heights in the field of medicine.

A recent medical case at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London was a showcase of advances in medicinal science.  A pair of teenagers had cystic fibrosis, it is a disease where the lungs cannot clear mucus and disease-causing bacteria. They had undergone lung transplant and soon after which the infections that stayed in the body erupted from their sutures and soon these bacteria began to stain and spread over their skin through the skin tissues, doctors were giving antibiotics but they were of no use, as the body was not responding to them and the bacteria continued to spread. This is when phages came to rescue.

The history of phages dates back to the late 1990s where Graham Hatfull, a microbiologist of the University of Pittsburgh had the collection on bacteriophages which are viruses that prey solely on bacteria. These phages were stored at -80˚C in the university research lab. The boy, unfortunately, succumbed to his infection as it was too late however the girl was able to get the recovery and survived on the edge as her body parts were on the brink of organ failure. The infusion of the phage cocktail was first given to Isabelle in June 2018. Within 72 hours, her sores began to dry. After 6 weeks of intravenous treatment every 12 hours, the infection was all gone, soon she became back to her normal teenage life.

The two teenagers and their recovery became a case study which was published in the Journal Nature Medicine which represents the first ever use of engineered phages in a human patient. There is an emerging phase of synthetic biology which the disease researcher Eric Rubin of Harvard T.H School of Public Health commented that there is a need for rigorous testing of this before final implementation.

Phages typically kill a single bacterial strain which means if it works on one person it may not always work on the other person. Leading US universities have launched Phages research in their laboratories. There are claims that even if the treatment succeeds there are a lot of practical difficulties in the implementation. For further implementation, we also need to gauge the affordability factor of the treatment so people in all economic strata can afford this treatment.