Maggots are typically a telltale sign of death and decay, but the legless larva have inspired a new robotic prototype that could one day help brain surgeons preserve the lives of their patients.
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For the last four years, J. Marc Simard, a neurosurgery professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, and his team have been developing an intracranial robot that will help remove brain tumors. Shaped like a mechanical finger, multiple joints give the brain bot a range of probing motions. An electrocautery tool at its tip heats and destroys tumors, while a suction tube sucks out debris. The robot can also be remotely controlled by a surgeon while a patient is inside an MRI scanner, giving the surgeon an excellent view of hard-to-see tumors.
Simard was inspired to develop such a robot after watching a TV show where plastic surgeons were using sterile maggots to remove damaged or dead tissue from a patient.
"Here you had a natural system that recognized bad from good and good from bad," Simard said in press release. "In other words, the maggots removed all the bad stuff and left all the good stuff alone and they're really small. I thought, if you had something equivalent to that to remove a brain tumor that would be an absolute home run."