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Wirelessly Activated Robotic Device Aids Digestion in Patients with Compromised Organs

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 11 Jun 2024

The transport of fluids and solids is essential in the human body, driven by a wave-like movement in the lumen known as peristalsis. However, peristalsis can be disrupted in patients who have obstructions due to tumors or require stents. For instance, traditional esophageal stents, which are metal tubes, are often used in older patients with esophageal cancer. There is a risk with these stents that food may be obstructed from entering the stomach, creating a hazardous situation where it might instead enter the lungs. Now, a wirelessly activated device that replicates the wavelike muscular actions in the esophagus and small intestine could facilitate the transportation of food and viscous fluids for digestion, assisting patients with impaired organ function.

This soft-robotic prototype, developed by researchers at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN, USA), is powered by strong magnets that are controlled by an external wearable actuator and is designed to assist patients with blockages due to tumors or those in need of stents. The device features a soft, magnet-filled sheet arranged in parallel rows, which are activated to move in a wave-like pattern, generating the necessary torque to transport various solids and liquids. By restoring the natural peristaltic motion, this innovation sets the stage for the next generation of robotic medical devices aimed at enhancing life quality, particularly for the elderly.

Image: Concept of the wirelessly actuated undulating pump and its integration into an esophageal stent (Photo courtesy of Advanced Functional Materials/ doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202405865)
Image: Concept of the wirelessly actuated undulating pump and its integration into an esophageal stent (Photo courtesy of Advanced Functional Materials/ doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202405865)

The wirelessly actuated robotic pumping mechanism offers the potential for a range of implantable medical devices intended to manage lumen dysmotility issues in conditions like esophageal cancer. Unlike other soft robotic pumps, this device is entirely wireless and can be integrated seamlessly with existing medical stents. This new wireless soft robotic pump represents a significant advancement in soft robotics and point-of-care medical devices. The developers believe that further enhancements could extend its applications to other biological functions affected by diseases. For instance, the device could potentially facilitate the transport of human eggs from the ovaries in cases where the muscular function of the fallopian tubes is compromised. Additionally, with advancements in manufacturing techniques, the device could be made smaller to fit even narrower passageways.

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