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Tissue regeneration through robotic implants

A medical robot could be used to treat defects such as esophageal atresia and short bowel syndrome.

Researchers at Boston’s Children Hospital say the implant should stimulate tissue growth in stunted organs, gradually stretching tubular organs through traction force

The device has already induced cell proliferation and lengthened part of the esophagus in a large animal by about 75%, while it remained awake and mobile. The hope is to do the same within humans with conditions such as long-gap esophageal atresia.

Russell Jennings, MD, surgical director of the esophageal and airway treatment centre, said: "This project demonstrates proof-of-concept that miniature robots can induce organ growth inside a living being for repair or replacement, while avoiding the sedation and paralysis currently required for the most difficult cases of esophageal atresia. The potential uses of such robots are yet to be fully explored, but they will certainly be applied to many organs in the near future."

One current method to treat this, known as the Foker process, involves paralysing the patient in a medical induced coma between one to four weeks to prevent tearing of organs. This process uses sutures anchored on the patient's back to gradually pull on the esophagus, but the long period of immobilization can cause other medical complications.

This motorised robotic device is attached soley to the esophagus and is covered by a biocompatible, waterproof skin-like material. It includes two attachment rings, placed around the esophagus and sewn into place with sutures. A programmable control unit outside the body applies adjustable traction forces to the rings, which will pull the tissue in the desired direction.

The research team is now starting to test the robotic system in a large animal model of short bowel syndrome. While long-gap esophageal atresia is quite rare, the prevalence of short bowel syndrome is much higher.

Bethan Grylls

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