Surgeons are known for their abilities to repair even the smallest nerve endings in the body, but thanks to some new advances in semiconductor technology, their abilities may soon be greatly increased. A team of researchers from Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Dallan University of Technology released an exciting new study earlier this year that details these advances.
The team created what they called “electrotactile stimulation devices” using semiconductors. These tiny devices can be engineered into surgical gloves that will help surgeons eventually target incredibly small and sensitive areas for local ablation, rather than having to guess where diseased or damaged tissue may be. These tiny sensors were first tested on the inside of surgical gloves and then the outside to determine which method would offer the greatest level of sensitivity. The exterior prototypes performed better and allow for the creation of custom gloves that will fit these sensors around a surgeon’s fingertips, like small cuffs.
Now that this advancement has been discovered, there is the potential for future sensors to be able to relay other information, such as temperature, and even ultra-sound images. Eventually, this may lead to a greater use and capability of surgical robots, which will allow for specialists to help patients, wherever they may be in the world.
The entire circuit is made of a skin-like fabric and utilizes gold conductive lines paired with tiny sheets of silicon. The entire apparatus can then be attached to a glove that can be moulded to each individual surgeon’s fingers. While the cost of these devices will initially be high, over time, as the technology is perfected and in broader use, even smaller hospitals will be able to afford this technology.
The possibilites don’t stop there. The researchers believe that this technology can be adapted to create a 3D device that could be used to help heart surgeons pinpoint with amazing accuracy where problems lie, and may even have the potential to help cure cardiac conditions that are now considered to be inoperable. As these devices are improved, there is even the possibility that it could be adapted to assist brain surgeons in complex brain operations.
The researcher’s next task is to come up with a way to include wireless data transfer and a power source to the device to further increase it’s capabilities.