A robotic device developed by scientists could revolutionize the treatment for stroke, according to news reports Thursday.
Developed by MIT researchers, the wormlike robot works its way through the tiny blood vessels inside the human brain to break up the blood clots that cause the stroke and restore blood flow, NBC News reports.
The device — known as a "ferromagnetic soft continuum robot" — opens clogged vessels with beams of laser light or specific doses of clot-dissolving medication, is in an early stage of development.
Experts, however, hailed the potential of the device, described in Aug. 28 issue in the journal Science Robotics.
Each year, 795,000 Americans have strokes — and 140,000 die from them.
The device could treat more patients within the first hour after a stroke, before oxygen-starved brain tissue dies and before patients face an increased risk of death or permanent disability, NBC News reports.
"It could markedly enhance access to clot-retrieval treatments, which at the moment are limited to comprehensive stroke centers," Ralph Sacco, chairman of neurology at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, told NBC. "It would be a quantum leap . . . in access to clot-retrieval therapy."
According to the report, the device would be inserted into the body through a small incision in the groin or neck and then snaked up to the brain by magnets.
It is smaller than conventional clot-retrieval catheters and has a slippery, friction-reducing gel coating around a flexible alloy wire at its core.
Those features could give the device another potential advantage over existing catheters: the ability to get inside very narrow blood vessels.
"It can reach places that catheters can't reach now," Bradley Nelson, a professor of robotics and intelligent systems at the Swiss technical university ETH Zurich, told NBC. "We're seeing devices that can go deeper into the body along more tortuous paths.
"This is a step along the way."
Tests of the device on animals might begin within two years, scientists told NBC, but it will not be available for treating humans for a decade or more.
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