Minimally invasive surgery techniques have come a long way in recent decades, but they still have limitations that scientists are struggling to overcome. Laser micro-surgery, for example, leaves minimal damage to peripheral tissue, but it can only be used on parts of the body that are in the line of sight of the laser. Meanwhile, surgery using flexible robotics can access hard-to-reach areas, but it can damage surrounding tissue. Now a team of robotics engineers from Harvard University Wyss Institute have developed a way to join forces by designing a laser guided microrobot which can be attached to a flexible surgical device, such as colonoscopes.
The team evaluated the currently available laser devices and found that they were either too big, didn’t have the necessary range of motion, or weren’t powerful enough. They wanted to design a device that would be roughly the diameter of a drinking straw, and they were able to achieve this – the resulting device is 6mm in diameter and 16mm in length – using a configuration with three small mirrors. This design gives it a wide range of motion, so that surgeons can operate on lesions of different sizes. In addition, the laser has a high bandwidth, which allows it to cut tissue faster and minimize damage.