August 10, 2012

Scientists Creating Surgical Gloves Of The Future

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Researchers are attempting to create futuristic surgical gloves that can allow doctors to perform ultrasound scans through the tips of their fingers.

Scientists have created devices that are capable of responding with high precision to the stresses and strains associated with touch and finger movement. In order to create these devices, they had to be able to mimic and recreate the intricate properties of the fingertips through using semiconductor devices.

Eventually, the team hopes their research could lead towards surgical gloves that could be used in medical procedures like ultrasound scans and local ablations.

"Imagine the ability to sense the electrical properties of tissue, and then locally remove that tissue, precisely by local ablation, all via the fingertips using smart surgical gloves. Alternatively, or perhaps in addition, ultrasound imaging could be possible," co-author of the study published in the journal Nanotechnology, Professor John Rogers, said in a press release.

The team believes the new technology could open the door for surgical robots that can interact with their surroundings through touch.

The electronic circuit on the "skin" is made up of patterns of gold conductive lines and ultra thin sheets of silicon.

These sheets are etched into an open mesh geometry, and are transferred to a thin sheet of silicone rubber molded into the precise shape of a finger.

This "skin" was designed to measure the stresses and strains at the fingertip by measuring the change in capacitance of pairs of micro electrodes in the circuit. As applied forces decrease the spacing in the skin, it increased the capacitance.

The fingertip device could also be fitted with sensors that could measure motion and temperature, as well as small-scale heaters to act as actuators for ablation and other operations.

The team said they experimented with having the electronics on the inside of the device, in contact with the wearer's skin, and also on the outside.

They said the device exploits materials and fabrication techniques adopted from the established semiconductor industry, which is a process that can be scaled for realistic use at a reasonable cost.

"Perhaps the most important result is that we are able to incorporate multifunctional, silicon semiconductor device technologies into the form of soft, three-dimensional, form-fitting skins, suitable for integration not only with the fingertips but also other parts of the body," Professor Rogers said in the release.

The team now wants to create a "skin" for integration on other parts of the body, such as the heart. This device would envelop the entire 3D surface of the heart, helping to provide various sensing and actuating functions.

According to the researchers, future challenges to be faced include creating materials and schemes to provide the device with wireless data and power.