Health and Science Innovations

A robot “hand” to treat spina bifida

by The Week Magazine

The tiny probe can be passed into the womb

Researchers are creating a tiny robot to treat conditions such as spina bifida in unborn babies before they are able to harm the foetus, reports The Observer. Spina bifida occurs when the spine develops improperly. It can be very mild, but in the most serious form – myelomeningocele – a gap develops through which fluid can pass; it then travels up the spinal column to the growing brain, causing serious neurological damage.

The only way of treating spina bifida pre-natally now is by opening up the mother’s uterus and abdomen; this surgery is highly risky to both her and the foetus, and can only be undertaken after 26 weeks, by which time the neurological damage is usually done. Instead, British engineers and doctors have been awarded £10m in funding to develop a tiny probe, carrying both a miniature endoscopic camera and tiny hand-like instruments, that could be passed safely into the womb. Guided remotely, the probe would be used to stick a tiny gel “patch” on the spine, sealing the gap.