Video Shows Innovative "Brain Needle" With a Surprise Feature

This needle can see.

Ready to jump into the Matrix? A biopsy needle has been developed for surgery that uses a small fiber-optic camera to track its progress through the brain and avoid blood vessels. The breakthrough, outlined in a journal article on Wednesday, was demonstrated with a freaky animation that looks like something out of a science fiction movie.

“This is the first reported use of such a probe in the human brain during live surgery, and is the first step in the long process required to bring new tools like this into clinical practice,” Robert McLaughlin, chair of biophotonics in the University of Adelaide’s Medical School, said in a statement. McLaughlin is the corresponding author of the paper published in Science Advances.

The team used the needle in validation tests with 11 patients at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Western Australia. The subjects were in the hospital for neurosurgery, and consented to the tests. The researchers found that the needle can detect vessels with 91.2 percent sensitivity and 97.7 percent specificity.

McLaughlin and others explained the breakthrough in a longer video:

“Bleeds are a risk in many types of neurosurgery and there is a great opportunity for new technologies like this to help us reduce those risks,” Christopher Lind, consultant neurosurgeon at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and the University of Western Australia who led the clinical trial, said in a statement.

Researchers are continuously looking for ways to improve brain surgery. A paper in 2016 described a method for using a tiny peptide to deliver drugs to certain parts of the brain that avoid using needles. In 2017, a team of researchers created a computer-controlled drill to accelerate a certain cranial procedure to make it 50 times faster. Others, like Phil Kennedy and Elon Musk, have started exploring ways to link up brains with computers as part of more far-flung ideas.

A needle with a camera worming through your brain may sound like an idea for a Black Mirror episode, but enabling surgeons to peek inside as the needle moves could help make surgery safer.

Read the abstract below:

Intracranial hemorrhage can be a devastating complication associated with needle biopsies of the brain. Hemorrhage can occur to vessels located adjacent to the biopsy needle as tissue is aspirated into the needle and removed. No intraoperative technology exists to reliably identify blood vessels that are at risk of damage. To address this problem, we developed an “imaging needle” that can visualize nearby blood vessels in real time. The imaging needle contains a miniaturized optical coherence tomography probe that allows differentiation of blood flow and tissue. In 11 patients, we were able to intraoperatively detect blood vessels (diameter, >500 μm) with a sensitivity of 91.2% and a specificity of 97.7%. This is the first reported use of an optical coherence tomography needle probe in human brain in vivo. These results suggest that imaging needles may serve as a valuable tool in a range of neurosurgical needle interventions.

Related video: Your Future Surgery May Use An Automated, Robotic Drill

Media via Professor Robert McLaughlin, University of Adelaide