Autonomous Robotic Catheter Saves The Beating Hearts of Live Pigs


We have been witnessing the rise of the robotic surgical devices that can carry out procedures thanks to remote operation. They are able to carry out surgery with high-precision while being less invasive. However, they must be operated by a surgeon continuously. In a technological breakthrough, a robotic catheter was able to navigate the beating hearts of pigs without requiring any external input.

The robotic catheter was created by a team at the Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital. The team was being led by Pediatric Cardiac Bioengineering, Dr Pierre Dupont. The long and slender tool features an optical touch sensor at its end and houses an LED spotlight and an endoscopic camera.

An external motor pushes the catheter forward traversing the inner wall of the heart’s left ventricle while the images from the camera are processed by an artificial intelligence-based control system. This AI-based system is then able to determine if the sensor is in contact with blood, heart wall, or a heart valve. Furthermore, the system was visually assessing the amount of pressure that the sensor was exerting on the tissue surrounding it. By using this information, the system was able to make sure that it didn’t press hard enough to cause any kind of damage.

By making use of a map of cardiac anatomy and preoperative scans of the individual hearts of the pigs, the control system was able to determine where the robotic catheter was inside the organ and how to move it further towards the target. The target for the experiment was an artificial valve in the aorta. This artificial valve had a leak that had to be fixed, and once the robotic catheter made its way to the target; a surgeon took over and remotely operated a surgical tool that is located at the end of the catheter for plugging the hole.

The trials that have been carried out up till now have concluded that the robotic catheter takes longer to make its way to the valve as opposed to a manually controlled device. However, this lag in time can be improved once the technology is enhanced and developed further. The basic idea is that eventually this robotic catheter can be used for freeing the surgeons up to focus on the procedural aspects of the surgery rather than making their way to the affected area.

Dupont says, ‘This would not only level the playing field, but it would also raise it. Every clinician in the world would be operating at a level of skill and experience equivalent to the best in their field. This has always been the promise of medical robots. Autonomy may be what gets us there.’ The research was published in the form of a paper in the journal Science Robotics.