Jesse Lock (BME): Intracardiac Surgical Robots

“I love being a pediatrician and the idea that technology can help physicians diagnose and heal [...]patients. But during my residency training, I was surprised by the simplicity of medical equipment. When compared to the complexity of a modern car or mobile phone, a heart monitor is years behind. Devices that monitor complex organ systems, such as the heart and the lungs, don’t share information very well. This made me curious as to why it’s so difficult to develop medical technology.

Following my residency I joined the College’s Late Entry Acceleration Program. After two years I matriculated into the doctoral program and was fortunate to end up in Professor Pierre Dupont’s (ME) BioRobotics Research Laboratory, where the current focus is on medical devices. We’re working on a thin, snake-like robotic device for doing intracardiac surgery.

Current cardiac repair is done in one of two ways: open-heart surgery, which provides excellent exposure but can be physically traumatic; or using peripherally inserted catheters, which is minimally invasive but can be very difficult to control. Our approach is to use the best of both worlds.

The robot we’re developing is minimally invasive but still able to move dexterously and precisely within the heart. For children, I know how traumatic full-scale cardiac surgery can be, and this could be a great solution. And with the current debate on Capitol Hill, it seems likely that there will be a national trend toward reducing health care costs with less invasive surgeries.

Our short term goals are to improve the robot’s functionality within the operating room and to demonstrate its ability to move effectively within the heart. I can also imagine where this device would be useful to access other areas of the body, such as the brain or lungs. In the longer term, my goal is to find practical applications for devices while continuing to work as a pediatrician.”

- Jesse Lock, as told to Jason L. London

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