April 28th, 2015

In Brief : Robotics, smart textiles,
mental remote control, electronic implant

Discover some of the most striking medical news items and projects of recent months, from the consensus over the pluses and minuses of using robotics in general surgery, to “smart textiles” able to transmit biomedical information, a mental remote control for paralyzed people, or an electronic implant that delivers drug and then dissolves harmlessly.


The European Association for Endoscopic Surgery (EAES) recently came to an important consensus on the use of robotics in general surgery.

Its members first stated, among other things, that robotics could enhance dexterity compared to manual laparoscopic surgery if a certain degree of “freedom” was provided. Moreover, surgeon ergonomics of robot-assisted surgery were considered better than ergonomics of standards endoscopic techniques, and robotic assistance was judged more able to facilitate complex biliary surgery such as bilio-enteric bypass.

However, according to the EAES, robotics did not show added value in single-incision laparoscopic surgery. Current robotic systems also lack haptic feeback making tissue manipulation more difficult. And robotic surgery is a specific surgical field which requires a new set of skills, as well as a structured and dedicated training program.

In conclusion, the Association highlighted that, to date, in general surgery, there is little or no advantages in using robotic systems in terms of clinical outcome.

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Smart textiles
Université Laval

Can a textile be elegant and smart at the same time? Canadian researchers from Université Laval made it possible by developping fabrics that can transmit biomedical information about the wearer via wireless or cellular network.

Those “smart textiles” consist of multiple layers of copper, polymers, glass and silver, and can be woven with wool or cotton.

The fiber acts like both sensor and antenna, explain the researchers. Its surface can also be adjusted to monitor a range of information like glucose levels, heart rhythm, brain activity, or spatial coordinates - data which can be sent via wireless network to a medical server, an hospital, a caregiver or a physician.

However, a couple of elements still have to be fine-tuned before the commercialization of these fabrics. One of them is to make sure that the textiles are robust enough to withstand chemicals found in the laundry detergent.


It may sound like science-fiction but it is not. After more than a decade of engineering work, researchers at Brown University and a Utah company, Blackrock Microsystems, have conceived an incredible device: a wireless transmitter that could give paralyzed people the power to control TVs, computers, wheelchairs or robotic arms with their thoughts.

The device, developped by a consortium called BrainGate based at Brown, can be attached to a person’s skull and transmit via radio thought commands collected from a brain implant. Like a real mental remote control...

Blackrock Microsystems will now try to seek clearance from the US Food and Drug administration (FDA). One of the limits of this new technology is that patients can only use it with the help of a crew of laboratory assistants and need to have the proper electronic equipment at home.


BrainGate acts like a mental remote control

Brown University


How the electronic implant works
Tufts University

Researchers at Tufts University, in collaboration with a team at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, have conceived an electronic implant that delivers drug when triggered by a remote wireless signal and then harmlessly dissolves within minutes or weeks.

For now, the researchers have tested this implant only in mice. They explain that the implants eliminated bacterial infection in the animals by delivering heat to infected tissue when triggered by a remote wireless signal. The silk and magnesium devices then harmlessly dissolved in the test animals.

Other implantable medical devices have already been developped but they usually use non-degradable materials. According to the researchers, these wireless strategies could help manage post-surgical infection or pave the way for eventual “wi-fi” drug delivery.

Célia Sampol

By Célia Sampol

Celia Sampol is the Online Managing Editor for MedicalExpo e-magazine. Journalist for 10 years, she has worked in Washington, DC for five years with the French news agency Agence-France Presse and different newspapers, among them Libération. Before that, she lived in Brussels, Belgium for five years where she worked for various media, including Europolitics and Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace.

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