Health and Healthcare

MIT’s new thread-like robots could travel through blood vessels in the brain for more effective surgery

A new hybrid operating room of the IHU, Institute of Image-Guided Surgery is pictured in Strasbourg, France, September 29, 2016. The hybrid operation room of the IHU combines the most advanced minimally invasive surgery techniques and the latest medical imaging technologies, resulting in the most advanced surgery platform of the world. Picture taken September 29, 2016.  REUTERS/Vincent Kessler  - LR1EC9U0PEWZ8

The new development from MIT researchers combines robotics with current surgery techniques. Image: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Darrell Etherington
Writer, TechCrunch
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Health and Healthcare?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Health and Healthcare is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Health and Healthcare

MIT has developed robotic thread that could make even the least invasive current brain surgery techniques even less so, and potentially make it easier and more accessible to treat brain blood vessel issues like blockages and lesions that can cause aneurysms and strokes.

The new development from MIT researchers combines robotics with current endovascular (i.e. within blood vessel) surgery techniques, reducing the risks associated with guiding incredibly thin wires through complicated brain blood vessel pathways. Today, this type of procedure, which is much less invasive than past methods of brain surgery, nonetheless requires an incredibly skilled surgeon to guide the wire manually. It’s a very difficult surgery for surgeons, and it also means that they’re exposed to radiation from the X-rays required to provide a view of the path they’re weaving through the patient’s brain.

These “robot-threads” developed by MIT expand on research done on so-called “hydrogels,” which are materials made mostly of water that work well within the human body. At the thread’s core is a material called “nitinol” that can bend, and is springy, meaning it has a natural tendency to spring back to its original shape when bent.

The material is coated in an ink-like substance, which is then bonded with a hydrogel, thus regulating it in a magnetically manipulable material that can still survive within the human body. Using a large magnet, the researchers could then steer the thread through a demonstration obstacle course they built to show off how it could work in a surgical situation.

Have you read?

MIT’s researchers also note that you can modify the core construction of the robot threads with other materials to serve different functions, and showed this by replacing the nitinol at its center with a fiber-optic filament, which in practice could be used to transmit laser light to blast away a blockage in a brain blood vessel.

The tech could be put to use to make it so surgeons can operate the threads from a safe distance — or even remotely. This would not only be safer for the doctors, but could also open up more access to this highly specialized kind of surgery for patients, too.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

The gender health gap: It's more than a women’s issue. Here’s why

Smriti Zubin Irani and Shyam Bishen

February 21, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum