For those most severely affected, treating epilepsy means drilling through the skull deep into the brain to destroy the small area where the seizures originate — invasive, dangerous and with a long recovery period. Five years ago, a team of Vanderbilt engineers wondered: Is it possible to address epileptic seizures in a less invasive way? They decided it would be possible. Because the area of the brain involved is the hippocampus, which is located at the bottom of the brain, they could develop a robotic device that pokes through the cheek and enters the brain from underneath which avoids having to drill through the skull and is much closer to the target area.
To do so, however, meant developing a shape-memory alloy needle that can be precisely steered along a curving path and a robotic platform that can operate inside the powerful magnetic field created by an MRI scanner. The engineers have developed a working prototype, which was unveiled in a live demonstration at the Fluid Power Innovation and Research Conference in Nashville.