New 'smart needle' to make brain surgery safer

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Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia developed a device to make brain surgery safer. A tiny imaging probe, encased within a brain biopsy needle, lets surgeons ‘see’ at-risk blood vessels as they insert the needle, allowing them to avoid causing bleeds that can potentially be fatal. Their project is a collaboration with the University of Western Australia and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

“We call it a smart needle. It contains a tiny fibre-optic camera, the size of a human hair, shining infrared light to see the vessels before the needle can damage them,” says Professor Robert McLaughlin, Chair of Biophotonics, Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, at the University of Adelaide. “And what’s really exciting is the computer smarts behind this – so that the computer itself recognizes the blood vessel and alerts the surgeon.”

The “smart needle” has been used in a pilot trial for the past six months, with 12 patients undergoing neurosurgery at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Western Australia and will be ready for formal clinical trials in 2018. The team is in discussions with a number of international medical device manufacturers and are seeking to manufacture the smart needles in Australia. “

“To have a tool that can see blood vessels as we proceed through the brain would revolutionize neurosurgery,” says Professor Christopher Lind, Consultant Neurosurgeon, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and the University of Western Australia, who led the clinical trial. “It will open the way for safer surgery, allowing us to do things we’ve not been able to do before.”


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