Brain Surgery Made Safer With New Smart Needle

By Anne Dominguez , Jan 22, 2017 10:44 PM EST

Researchers have developed a new high-tech medical device for safer brain surgery. The so-called "smart needle" is a tiny imaging device encased in a brain biopsy needle. It can help surgeons avoid damaging fatal blood vessels or those which can cause major or permanent damage to the brain.

Brain surgeries are among the riskiest types of medical procedures. Craniectomy specifically, a procedure in which the surgeon removes a portion of the skull, is among the most difficult type. Some risks of brain surgery include bleeding, blood clots, infection and pneumonia. Meanwhile, risks associated with brain tumor surgery include weakness, seizures, memory and balance problems, meningitis, brain swelling, leakage of spinal fluid, stroke, coma and death.

"We call it a smart needle. It contains a tiny fibre-optic camera, the size of a human hair, shining infrared light to see the vessels," Professor Robert McLaughlin, Chair of Biophotonics, Center for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, at the University of Adelaide said in a press release. He added that the technology can recognize and alert the surgeon of a risky blood vessel before the needle can damage them.

Neurosurgeons at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Western Australia used the technology for 12 patients in a pilot trial. Professor Christopher Lind, a consultant neurosurgeon who led the trial said the smart needle would revolutionize neurosurgery. It opens a way for safer surgery and will allow surgeons to do types or procedure which are impossible before.

"This smart biopsy device is an outstanding example of how our investment in research can translate into real benefits for industries and ultimately for Australians," Education and Training Minister of Turnbull, Senator Simon Birmingham said according to Science Daily. He added that the Turnbull government has dedicated $23 million until 2021 for new discoveries in medicine through the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics.

The said technology is a collaboration of the University of Western Australia and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. It is also partially funded by the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the South Australian Government. The smart needle will be ready for formal brain surgery clinical trials in 2018. The researchers are also discussing with companies which may manufacture the device in Australia.

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