Self-propelled soft robotic endoscopes for next-generation gastrointestinal surgery and beyond

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


Gastrointestinal cancers, affecting the oesophagus, stomach and colon, are among the top ten cancers worldwide. Minimally invasive surgery uses endoscopes to access the body and offers important advantages compared to traditional open surgery through a large cut, including less trauma and faster recovery.

Surgeons who use flexible endoscopy to treat patients need to be very experienced. Endoscopies are complex and can take a long time to do. A large number of endoscopies fail to reach the end of the colon and the small intestine due to the number of tight bends in the gut. Incomplete removal of tumours leads to regrowth and complications. Improving access to flexible endoscopy for diagnosis and treatment is very important to patients and doctors. We also need to make sure that the procedure is safe, accurate and affordable for the NHS.

This research aims to transform early diagnosis and treatment of gut cancers using flexible endoscopy. We will combine a soft robotic endoscope with a probe carrying a miniature surgical laser, and a powerful tissue analysis device. This will be easier to use than standard endoscopes and will allow endoscopists with less experience to perform the surgery. The ability to find and treat early tumours will reduce the number of patients requiring further surgery, reduce discomfort and lower the number of tumours that grow back. Automation of key steps of the test - including deployment of the instrument, detection of cancer, and laser surgery - will eventually allow cancer surgeries to be done in outpatient clinics or GP surgeries.

In this programme, we are bringing together leading experts in robotics, medical imaging, control, engineering, surgery and cancer. This expertise will help us to design a device which will have a major healthcare impact and benefit the largest possible number of patients.


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