Innovation

MRI-Powered Mini-Robots Could Offer Targeted Treatment

Work Could Move Medicine ‘From Science Fiction to Science Feasibility’


AaronBecker-720
By Jeannie Kever | March 08, 2017

Invasive surgical techniques – cutting through the breastbone for open heart surgery or making a large incision to inspect an abdominal tumor – allow physicians to effectively treat disease but can lead to sometimes serious complications and dramatically slow healing for the patient.

Scientists instead want to deploy dozens, or even thousands of tiny robots to travel the body’s venous system as they deliver drugs or a self-assembled interventional tool. Researchers from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist Hospital are developing control algorithms, imaging technology, ultrafast computational methods and human-machine immersion methods to harness the force from a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner to both image and steer millimeter-sized robots through the body.

“We want to move from science fiction to science feasibility,” said Aaron Becker, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UH and principal investigator for a $608,000 Synergy Award from the National Science Foundation to develop prototypes for testing.

To tackle this unprecedented challenge, the award involves two additional investigators: Nikolaos Tsekos, associate professor of computer science and director of the Medical Robotics Laboratory at UH, who has expertise in MRI and computational methods, and Dipan J. Shah, a cardiologist and director of cardiovascular MRI at Houston Methodist Hospital, who brings expertise in clinical MRI and focusing the efforts to find solutions that are clinically necessary and valuable.

While MRI has traditionally been used for noninvasive diagnosis, the next frontier is its use as a tool to offer noninvasive or minimally invasive treatment.

The milli-robot development and control work is an outgrowth of Becker’s previous research, which was funded in part with an NSF CAREER award and demonstrated the theory behind the proposal. This grant, awarded through NSF’s Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) program, will fund work to build a prototype suitable for animal testing. The MRI control and computational methods follow a previous CPS award in image-guided robotic surgeries led by Tsekos and Shah.

Their current models are up to two centimeters; Becker said the goal is robots that range from 0.5 millimeters to two millimeters. The average human hair, in comparison, is about 0.08 millimeters wide.

MRI provides enough magnetic force to steer the robots through the body’s blood vessels but can’t penetrate tumors or other tissue. This project is working with two designs, both powered by the MRI scanner, to address that problem, one based on the principle of mechanical resonance and the second modeled after a self-assembling surgical tool, a Gauss gun.

A key issue is real-time control, Becker said, noting that blood vessels move around in the body, making it crucial to be able to see both the anatomy and the robot as it moves in order to keep it moving correctly. Even the fastest current MRI scans are too slow for such control and have a time lag before the information is available. Developing such a system is a multidisciplinary task that must seamlessly integrate sensing with the MRI scanner, milli-robot control and close the loop by controlling the scanner to drive the milli-robots.

Ultimately, Becker said, the goal is to use the power of an MRI to steer large numbers of robots throughout the body. While one milli-robot could target a single lesion, delivering chemotherapy or another intervention, that isn’t practical for a late-stage cancer, for example.

“Targeting delivery with dozens of microsurgeons is my goal,” he said. In this case, those “microsurgeons” would be robots, guided by a physician.

Tags | Innovation



Social Posts

profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

@TXHSGirlsLax17 Thanks for sharing ^SF

15 mins ago
profile_image

Memorial Hermann

@memorialhermann

Jayden cried when he was born. But when his identical twin brother Luke was born, it was eerily silent. Their story? https://t.co/qGDnrs4pte

32 mins ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

VA rehabilitation scientist recognized for work with Veterans affected by upper-limb loss https://t.co/tbxXfS7m75 via #VAntagePoint

32 mins ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Exoskeletal suit helps Tampa veteran regain ability to walk https://t.co/0j3YsPSCHS via @TB_Times

2 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

For Dr. Ruth Ann Luna research examining the connection between autism and the gut is personal. https://t.co/kCssokW2wd

2 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson

@MDAndersonNews

Why a #bladder cancer survivor?s care team insisted he attend his daughter?s wedding: https://t.co/1Pesj9Xyqo? https://t.co/xLQxnXKr6R

2 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

'This is what they deserve': Veterans laid to rest at DFW @VANatCemeteries https://t.co/YOjT1WSvsp via @dallasnews

3 hours ago
profile_image

Texas Children's

@TexasChildrens

April showers bring May flowers! ?? Bring spring to our patients by sending a flower. Donate to send a flower:? https://t.co/n1P3sTJGtL

3 hours ago
profile_image

UniversityofHouston

@UHouston

Spotlight on #ForeverCoog & trailblazer Cynthia Oliver Coleman, 1st Black woman to earn UH chem. engineering degree? https://t.co/YVwAI8039S

3 hours ago
profile_image

Texas Children's Hospital

TexasChildrensHospital

April showers bring May flowers! ☔🌻 Bring spring to our brave patients by sending a flower. Donate now to send your flower today: texaschildrens.org/flowers

3 hours ago
profile_image

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

VeteransAffairs

There are monuments and structures all around America honoring our nation’s leaders, Veterans, wars and military campaigns. We want to spotlight the memorials a...

4 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

Congratulations Dr. Peggy Smith on receiving the 2017 David C. Wiley award! https://t.co/1QhxAHzDNd

4 hours ago
profile_image

Baylor College of Medicine

BaylorCollegeOfMedicine

Congratulations Dr. Peggy Smith on receiving the 2017 David C. Wiley award!

4 hours ago
profile_image

TAMU Health Sciences

@TAMHSC

Don't ignore pain in the jaw; it may signal serious heart condition: https://t.co/DXqADuPrr9 #HeartHealth? https://t.co/OO0YcSWIV8

4 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

Listen to @KPRCradio at 11 a.m. today for an interview with Dr. Carmel Dyer on the care patients need following a surgical procedure.

4 hours ago