Log in   •   Sign up   •   Subscribe  feed icon

Robots From Space Being Used To Help Treat Breast Cancer

What do the International Space Station and a breast cancer treatment center have in common? More than you might think, actually. A new device is under development at the Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation that utilizes the same robotics technology found on the ISS to automate MRI-guided breast biopsies, leading to great gains in efficiency, patient comfort, precision, and access for the process.  

The device, known as the Image-Guided Autonomous Robot, will be used for patients deemed as high-risk for breast cancer; these patients must submit to annual mammograms and MRIs in order to watch for developing symptoms. IGAR, as it's called, will work with an MRI scanner to combine an MRI, biopsy, and even ablation of breast lesions into a single, easy procedure.

IGAR utilizes technology taken straight from the International Space Station, which Anvari and his team have gained access to through a partnership with MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates. This partnership, it was explained in a press release, has the secondary goal of the "promotion of Canadian talent in the development and use of robotics in patient care."

"The IGAR project will foster Canadian Highly Qualified People HQP development among the diverse members of the Clinical Advisory Group directing robotic development, as well as the management team leading the new company created," it continued. "Addionally, it will create new avenues for medical research in Canada to validate new technologies entering the market."  

 

Should an abnormality be discovered in the MRI scan, a radiologist can use the IGAR software to tell the device where to insert the biopsy needle. In early tests, explains CSII CEO Dr. Mehran Anvari, IGAR has been able to deliver the needle with a great deal of accuracy, coming within 1 millimeter of the lesion. Because the whole process is automated, IGAR's precision is entirely independent of the attending radiologist's skill level. This could, continues Anvari, lead to a significant increase in patient discomfort - after all, the procedure's already unpleasant enough as it is.

What's more, radiologists could also enjoy a great deal more efficiency, moving biopsies out of the operating room and into the radiation suite.

"I've been working in the field of sugical robotics since 1995, when the first series of robots were developed for use in minimally-invasive surgery," explained Anvari in a video attached to the press release. "I've actually designed three robotic platforms which we believe had significant potential, both in the field of telerobotics but also image-guided surgery and automated systems. We were recently provided funding by the government to found the Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation as a partnership between McMasters University and MDA."

"Our system sucks out about a centimeter cube of the tissue, so depending on the size of the lesion, you might take it all out during the biopsy," explained Anvari. "In the case that a lesion isn't entirely removed, our final version will allow for a needle-based ablation device to be passed back along the same path to destroy the rest. We hope that this will consequently reduce the rate of lumpectomy surgeries performed after biopsies."