Jun 30, 2017 | By David

A groundbreaking new development in the field of robotics is poised to have a major impact on the medical world, specifically in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. The Stormram 4 is the latest version of a 3D printed robot that can operate inside an MRI machine. As manual breast biopsies can be a difficult procedure for medical professionals, the implementation of this award-winning robotic system will enable cancer to be detected and treated more easily, and it could lead to thousands of lives being saved. 

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer amongst women, with an estimated 12 percent of women in the U.S being affected by the disease at some point in their adult life. Early, accurate diagnosis is crucial to stopping it, but this isn’t always possible due to the difficulty of performing a manual biopsy under MRA guidance. Previous robotic solutions to this problem had been limited due to the strong magnetic field of MRA scanners limiting the use of the kinds of metallic, conductive materials that robots tend to be built from, but an effective alternative now appears to have been found.

Following the prototype Stormram 3 that was trialled back in March, the Stormram 4 is a robot that is 3D printed entirely from plastic and runs on air pressure instead of electricity. The mechanism of the robot is driven by rectilinear and curved air pressure engines, and it can be controlled from outside the MRI scanner with hydraulic hoses that are 5 meters in length. These in turn are driven by novel pneumatic linear stepper motors. As well as being compatible with the strong magnetic field inside the MRA machine, the robot is also designed to be small enough to fit inside the narrow tunnel of the scanner.

The 3D printed robot is capable of accurately moving a needle tip to a target within a range of a few millimeters, a level of precision which would be very difficult if not impossible for a human hand to achieve. The biopsy procedure involves using a needle to navigate to where the abnormal tissue, or lesion, can be seen, and then taking a sample for analysis. Cancer can also be treated in a similar way, avoiding the need for invasive surgery. Tumour cells can be destroyed with this needle, either by making it very hot (a process called thermal ablation) or very cold (cryo-ablation).

The Stormram 4 project was carried out by Vincent Green House MSc, Dr. Françoise Siepel and Prof. Stefano Stramigioli of the Robotics and Mechatronics (RAM) lab at the University of Twente. Their 3D printing and robotics expertise helped develop the project to the advanced level it is now at, and they also collaborated with Dr. Jeroen Veltman, radiologist at Twente Hospital Group (Ziekenhuis Groep Twente, ZGT) so they could modify the robot in order to be compatible with standard clinical practice. The project was recently given an award by the Surgical Robotic Challenge, at this year’s Hamlyn International Symposium in London. This is one of the world’s most important events in the field of robotic surgery, and its recognition of their achievement is a testament to its significance and potentially life-saving consequences.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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