Robots to treat rare birth defects

Oesophageal atresia is a rare genetic disease affecting about one in 4,000 babies born in the US and Europe. It occurs when the upper and lower parts of the oesophagus don’t connect, which means food can’t reach the stomach. 

Dana Damian and her team from the University of Sheffield worked with Boston’s Children Hospital and Harvard Medical School to design and build a robot that could mimic the Folker technique, which involves gradually stretching the tissue to make them connect. This surgical procedure carries inherent risks though, and they found that robotics had the answer.

The robot connects to the baby’s oesophagus by two rings, which then slowly stretch and encourage tissue to grow between the oesophagus and the stomach. It also means there is no need for sedation - the baby can move around as usual, reducing stress for everyone involved, with the implant controlled by a remote unit that doctors can monitor.

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