Thursday, April 26, 2007

Robotic Heart Worm

Here’s a creepy and oh-so-cool science-fiction-like thing: researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute have developed a little robot called “Heartlander” which can be inserted onto your heart and can perform medical procedures on it.

Their website, complete with videos:

Technically, it’s not a robot, per se, but a remote control tool, as it cannot “think” for itself, but still cool. The Heartlander is this device that’s just a few inches long that can be inserted into the chest cavity via a small incision. It is then attached to the heart via two suction cups attached to little vacuum hoses that run back out of the body. Using a joystick (oh, yes, my geek meter is going off the charts!), the surgeon controls the little beasty and makes it walk along the heart surface like a robotic inchworm. HERE is one of those incredibly cool yet creepy videos of the Heartlander inching along the surface of a beating pig heart (Go on and follow that link. It's worth it!).

The Heartlander can be used to insert localized medicine, electrodes, or dyes at specified locations in the heart, all without the need to crack open your frickin' sternum, rip apart your rib cage, cut open the pericardium, and expose your heart to the open air to do the standard procedures that this little robotic caterpillar can do with nothing more than a couple of incisions. The robot is cheap, effective, and sanitized, and recovery is far faster and easier.

Why is this important to me? Duh, it’s a cool robot! It’s my giddy childhood stay-up-late-to-watch-Star-Trek sci-fi fantasy come to life. But let us not forget that hearts and circulatory systems tend to fail at alarming rates in my family, with a plethora of bypasses, heart attacks, strokes, and fibrillation issues running rampant through our genes. Given that I have a great weakness for sitting on my ass and eating Ho-Ho’s in front of the TV, I’m happy to hear about any advancement that will allow me to live longer and eat more chocolate, or at least treat me in an easier fashion.

So would I let this little robotic heartworm creep along my “ticker” and administer medicine, leech-style? You betcha! And I’d want a video of it, too.

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