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Last year, Technology Review ran a story about a remotely controlled biopsy needle that doctors can operate while a patient is inside a CT machine (“Robotic Biopsy”).

Doctors use biopsy needles to grab a sample of patients’ tumors. Although this process is guided by CT scans, using current techniques, doctors cannot see the needle’s location relative to the tumor (as well as fragile tissues such as the lining of the lungs) and manipulate the needle at the same time because of radiation from the CT machine. The current technique, with all its guesswork, is time-consuming and can be risky.

The robotic biopsy machine, or “robopsy,” as it’s called, allows doctors to monitor and control the needle’s progress on a laptop displaying real-time CT images.

Its inventors say it should enable doctors to quickly grab samples of tumors in the lung, breast, and other areas of the body with less risk of serious complications, such as punctured lungs.

So far, robopsy has been tested on an artificial lung and turkey carcasses. Next month, the MIT and University of Cambridge graduate students who developed the technology will begin tests on live animals, as the first step toward FDA approval.

If robopsy is proven safe in humans and animals, it could save thousands of patients from complications related to biopsies. – By Katherine Bourzac

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