Recently, physicians and engineers partnered together to produce an implantable robot designed to stretch body tissue and therefore help improperly developing organs grow stronger. The work is being spearheaded by the Boston Children’s Hospital.
Once introduced into the body, the bots slowly tug on the targeted tissues to lengthen tubular organs that exhibit stunted growth. Specific applications include rare congenital disabilities affecting the esophagus and bowel that are challenging to address with surgery.
For example, the current standard of care for long-gap esophageal atresia, in which part of the esophagus is missing, means a child must be put into an induced coma and kept in intensive care for one to four weeks while the esophagus is manually lengthened. This rare defect impacts one in every 4,000 children in the U.S.
With the robot, two rings are attached to the esophagus and sewn together. A motor slowly tugs the rings apart, lengthening the esophageal tissue in the process. The biggest advantage is that the baby doesn’t have to be sedated during the procedure.
In addition to esophageal atresia, researchers are exploring how their device could be used to treat short bowel syndrome. The shortened bowel inhibits the child’s ability to receive nutrients from food. The bowel is a more complicated organ than the esophagus so that additional customizations will be needed. The robots are currently being tested on pigs with initially promising results.