This story is from the category Artificial Intelligence
Date posted: 02/04/2007
Boring small holes in the head is a common occurrence for surgeons working on delicate surgical procedures for the senses. Dentists drilling teeth, surgeons drilling into the nose, ear, or drilling holes into the head. Delicate, tiny movements where one slip could slam the drill into soft tissue, rending arteries rearing ligaments, driving shards of bone into the brain.
It takes great skill and judgement on the part of the surgeon to determine how far through the bone they are, and when to relax pressure. Release too early, and go nowhere, release too late, and the bone splinters, fragments rupturing blood vessels as flesh screams.?
For those still reading this, UK surgeons are working with a new tool, designed to counter this scenario. An intelligent surgical drill that senses the physical properties of tissues surrounding the drrill bit. Developed by Peter Brett and colleagues at the University of Aston and David Proops, a surgeon at University Hospital Birmingham, the drill has ben used in real operations with three patients so far.
The drill has been used in cochlea implantation, drilling the tiny hole into the cochlea.
Deep inside the ear, the Cochlea is a sealed, spiral container of fluid. It is almost 3cm in length, a coiled spiral of hollow bone shaped like a snail shell. It is the key to the sound detection mechanism - anywhere between 16,000 and 20,000 tiny white hairs line the fluidic interior of the cochlea. Every other part of the ear ? the ear drum, canal, the bones inside the ear, all has just focussed and amplified incoming vibrations - the Cochlea is where the sound is actually detected.
Cochlea implants drill into the Cochlea, and implant electrodes within the fluid chamber itself. A profound problem with this method is that a side effect of perforating the Cochlea, is the fluid leaks out as the tiny bone splinters, or the drill enters too far, severing the nerves, and all residual natural hearing ability in that ear is lost, leaving the electrode array as the only means of viable hearing.
Unlike conventional hand-powered surgical drills, the new, intelligent drill can sound an alert or shut down before piercing a delicate membrane in the inner ear.
Proops used the drill to create a hole less than a millimetre wide into his patients' ears. A surgeon normally uses a hand-drill to make this hole, but drilling to the right depth is difficult. The drill may burst through the membrane and into the ear cavity, introducing debris like bone dust. The pressure wave created by such a mishap can cause other trauma, damaging or destroying further cells in and around the impact site.
Brett, speaking about the drill, said "By monitoring the torque and force on the drill it can interpret the changing state of the tissue around the drill tip, it can detect when the drill has passed through the bone of the skull and reached the membrane surrounding the cavity of the ear.
"It's a bit like when you use a hand drill on a piece or wood ? you can feel when the wood is getting thin."
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