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How steel ‘nano’ needles are helping alter brain surgery


MIT researchers have developed a stainless steel nano needle device that can administer drugs to specific brain regions measuring under one cubic millimetre

Surgery that precisely targets tiny areas of the body is not new – you only have to look at the success and ubiquity of keyhole surgery to see that, but now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have taken this even further, developing a miniaturised system that can deliver “tiny quantities” of medicine to areas of the brain as small as one cubic millimetre.

“In this research we aimed to bridge the gap between cutting edge neuroscience research and novel engineered devices”

Professor Canan Dagdeviren, MIT

Professor Canan Dagdeviren, lead author of the research and the LG Electronics Career Development Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the university explains that “in this research we aim to bridge the gap between cutting edge neuroscience research and novel engineered devices, by developing a multi-functional neural device capable of exploring and eventually treating Parkinson’s disease.”


A patient undergoing brain surgery

The nano needle technique could help treat a range of neurological disorders


The device Professor Dagdeviren’s team are developing is comprised of several tubes, encased inside a steel needle the size of a human hair. Drugs are then administered through these tubes, with their minute size making it possible for them to be highly targeted.

Stainless steel is an ideal material for this technique as it is chemically inert, non-absorbent and can be sharpened to an incredible edge. Dagdeviren adds that steel is flexible, meaning the tubes can bend to reach the incredibly small areas of the brain that require the drugs. Surgeons are able to chart complex routes through the soft tissue of the brain to adjust for errors in needle trajectory and avoid obstructions.

Trials on rats demonstrated this specificity, with researchers distributing the drug muscimol to the substantia nigra, an area of the brain that helps control movement, in order to simulate the effects of Parkinson’s. Despite the substantia nigra’s location deep inside the brain, the team found they were in fact able to simulate the effects with the device – and to halt them with a wash of saline.

Researchers hope that the technology will be developed further and used to research other brain disorders, though their current focus is to “explore the underlying mechanisms of, and eventually treat” Parkinson’s.

“Any brain disorders that can be treated with drug therapy could be explored with this device,” Dagdeviren said. “It could pave the way towards an adaptive, multimodal treatment for neurologic diseases – and eventually revolutionise therapy for patients”.


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