The purpose of this research is to improve fetal therapy by introducing a micro-sized robot, less than 2 mm in diameter, into the uterus to correct or reverse effects of congenital fetal anomalies. For fetuses diagnosed with severe syndromes, surgery offers an alternative to abortion, intra-uterine death or a life with disability. While the number of patients is statistically low, fetal micro-robot research is justified by high morbidity rates, proven favorable outcomes with intervention, and educational value for extension to other procedures. The first micro-robot application will address congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a perforation in the diaphragm muscle through which abdominal viscera protrude, compressing and thereby preventing proper development of the lung. The micro-robot will execute a temporary tracheal occlusion which prevents egress of lung fluid, thereby increasing transpulmonic pressure sufficiently to push abdominal contents back into position and allow for continued pulmonary growth. The surgeon will maintain total control of robot activity through a joystick outside of the sterile field, guided by real-time images projected from an on-board camera along with 2D/3D ultrasound. Design of a micro-robot that will be immersed in the fluidic intrauterine environment provides ideal conditions to work with novel polymer actuators, unique robotic locomotion, and real-time intrauterine imaging.
Research links: http://fetalsurgery.chop.edu, http://fetalsurgery.ucsf.edu