A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a micrometer-sized tool to help perform biopsies and access hard-to-reach parts of the body.
In the past, when physicians needed to perform biopsies, a large portion of tissue had to be screened for cancer or other diseases. Unfortunately, this tissue had to come from the patient, which was rather counterproductive for the healing process. Two recently published studies have signaled the possible end of this practice through the use of dust-sized medical tools.
Named “mu-grippers,” the tiny, metallic, star shaped devices could give doctors the ability to access hard-to-reach parts of the body without the need for invasive surgical procedures. In April’s issue of the peer-reviewed, highly specifically named journal Gastroenterology, David Gracias, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins, described how his team had used their mu-grippers to collect a tissue sample from the colon and esophagus of a pig. Rather than make a dramatic incision into the poor animal, Gracias’ team inserted the mu-grippers through the pig’s mouth and stomach.
Key to the function of the mu-grippers is their ability to act autonomously. Rather than using electric power, the mu-grippers are activated by a body’s heat. Once activated, the star shaped body of the mu-gripper clamps down on a piece of tissue severing it from its whole. Once the operation has been complete, physicians can easily extract the mu-grippers with a magnetic catheter.
"This is the first time that anyone has used a sub-millimeter-sized device—the size of a dust particle—to conduct a biopsy in a live animal," said David Gracias. “That's a significant accomplishment. And because we can send the grippers in through natural orifices, it is an important advance in minimally invasive treatment and a step toward the ultimate goal of making surgical procedures noninvasive."
While the mu-grippers have seen early success in animal trials, Johns Hopkins researchers say there is still significant work to be done. Dr. Florin Selaru, another member of the team, underscored this point “The next step is improving how we deploy the grippers… The concept is sound, but we still need to address some of the details. The other thing we need to do is thorough safety studies.”
If researchers at Johns Hopkins can perfect the use of mu-gripper-based tissue extraction, future biopsies and surgical procedures could be made significantly safer and more precise.
Images Courtesy of Evin Gultepe, Gracias Lab