Helix Flex, a super-flexible medical instrument

Chief inventor:
Prof Paul Breedveld

‘Helix Flex could make many new surgical techniques possible in the future’, states Prof Paul Breedveld, of the Bio-mechanical Engineering department in the 3mE faculty. A perfect working prototype of the super-flexible instrument has been constructed. During an operation (particularly keyhole surgery), the snake-like motions of Helix Flex will make it possible to reach deeper into the body to access areas surrounded by ‘delicate anatomy’ (e.g. the brain). The instrument is able to rotate and move in various directions. ‘It can be controlled by the head, as well as by the part behind the head. This allows it to follow a precise anatomic path’. In this way, surgeons will be able to reach parts of tumours that would be impossible to remove with the current, rigid instruments.

It is all made possible by the special structure of the controllable helix cables in the instrument, which are based on the tentacles of a squid. The device was invented in collaboration between TU Delft, the AMC and the BioRobotics Institute in Pisa, with financing from STW. Surgeons can place a wide range of accessories on the tip of the instrument, including hooks, scissors and cameras. ‘The latter application is particularly useful, as the flexibility of the Helix Flex makes it possible to see around objects in the body’.

Breedveld’s group is still working on an application that will allow the Helix Flex to be as
rigid as it is flexible. ‘This would allow us to do things such as
affix a tiny pair of scissors very firmly and then apply considerable force’.

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