Revolutionary new smart-needle could transform neurosurgery

Tuesday 31 January 2017

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed a novel piece of technology that acts as a tiny flashlight, allowing surgeons to see into the brain. This machinery could transform neurosurgery for both patients and doctors.

The medical device, known as the 'smart-needle' contains a tiny fibre-optic camera, the size of a human hair, encased in a brain biopsy needle. It has been designed to shine infrared light to see blood vessels before the needle can damage them and alert the surgeon of a risky blood vessel.

The needle is also connected to the internet to send a real time video of the surgery, allowing neurosurgeons to detect risky vessels when they encounter them and avoid them. It also contains smart software, enabling the needle to take a still photo. Neurosurgeons are able to analyse the photo and determine whether the area captured contains a blood vessel or brain tissue.

One of the difficulties faced during neurosurgery is to preserve brain tissue whilst trying to get to the tumour or getting in to a part of the brain that could be dangerous to a patient's survival.

To have a tool that can see blood vessels as we proceed through the brain would revolutionise neurosurgery", said Professor Christopher Lind, Consultant Neurosurgeon at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and the University of Western Australia. This biopsy device opens a way for safer surgery and may allow neurosurgeons to do procedures that may have been much more difficult to do before.

This is the first time in the world that this needle has been used on human patients. Over the past six months, the 'smart-needle' has been used in a pilot trial with 12 patients undergoing neurosurgery at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

The team of scientists who created the needle suggest the smart-needle will be ready for formal brain surgery clinical trials in 2018.

Although this needle has only yet been developed and tested in Australia, this is a fantastic breakthrough which paves hope for improving the survival of brain tumour patients and removing the associated risks of surgery. We hope that this technology rapidly translates in to clinical practice in the rest of the world in the near future.