Recent development at WPI robotics lab

For those who were missing Prof. Fischer's lecture at Obuda University's International Bejczy Day, here are some recent advances from the AIM lab:

"Some people design robots that can assemble circuit boards or vacuum your floor. Gregory Fischer, PhD (above), professor of mechanical engineering and robotics engineering and director of WPI’s Automation and Interventional Medicine (AIM) Laboratory (, has other things in mind: He wants his robots to take biopsies from cancer patients more accurately and efficiently, and perform brain surgery more safely and effectively.
And he is tantalizingly close to achieving both milestones.
 A Robotics Revolution in the AIM LabFischer has made his mark by developing robots that can work inside MRI scanners, enabling surgeons to operate guided by real-time medical images. One robot, which he spent years developing in conjunction with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, is in clinical trials at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, where it is being used to help take biopsies from prostate cancer patients. (The trials are part of a program led by Clare Tempany, MD, a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and chair of research radiology at BWH, and supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Image Guided Therapy and with a Bioengineering Research Partnership grant from the National Cancer Institute.)
Another robot will blast brain tumors using high-powered, MRI-guided, robotically manipulated ultrasound. Now a fully functional prototype, that robot, supported by an NIH Academic-Industry Partnership grant and developed in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Albany Medical Center, and Acoustic MedSystems, could begin human trials in a few years.

While MRI-compatible robots are the main attraction in the AIM Lab, Fischer and his collaborators have also developed a custom research-focused controller for the da Vinci Surgical System, a tele-operated surgical robot made by Intuitive Surgical that is used to perform minimally invasive procedures. The controller, which includes both hardware and software and is completely open-source, is enabling researchers around the world to use a common, shared infrastructure to investigate methods for extending the da Vinci system’s capabilities, with an eye toward auto-mating surgical procedures and improving their safety. Fischer’s team in the AIM Lab is also actively pursuing wearable soft robotic assistive devices and socially assistive robots.
The Dawn of MRI-Compatible Robots
Fischer also holds an appointment at WPI in biomedical engineering and is faculty director of WPI’s Healthcare Delivery Institute (see page 40), has been developing innovative medical technologies since he was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, where he helped design an augmented reality system for surgeons that projected MRI scans directly onto patients. He also worked on the early forebears of the robot that is currently in trials at BWH: a robot that sits inside the cylindrical bore of an MRI scanner along with the patient, helping a doctor guide a biopsy needle far more accurately into a walnut-sized prostate gland with the aid of up-to-date images.
In conventional prostate cancer biopsies, doctors determine where to insert their needles by relying on previously acquired, preoperative imaging; they can also use intraoperative ultrasound, whose resolution pales in comparison to that of MRI. Some hospitals combine preoperative MRI scans with live ultrasound images taken during the procedure itself, but that, too, is not ideal, Fischer notes. Patients (and their organs) can shift and move, and the very act of inserting a needle in soft tissue can cause it to swell and deform, altering the position of the target and rendering those high-resolution pre-operative scans obsolete. As a result, doctors often must perform multiple needle insertion attempts, and the low sensitivity of biopsies means they may have to be redone, ratcheting up the procedure’s cost and the patient’s discomfort. Hence the attraction of Fischer’s robot: by improving accuracy and reducing guesswork, MRI-guided robotic needle placement ought to make the act of taking a biopsy cheaper and faster — and less taxing on the patient.

Source: WPI


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