Robot to improve precision of cancer treatment

Researchers in the US plan to use a robot to place therapeutic radioactive seeds in prostate cancer patients.

The robot has been designed by Thomas Jefferson University scientists to provide a steady and precise method to implant scores of the seeds directly at the site of a cancerous tumour in the prostate gland, eliminating the possibility of human error, said Prof Adam Dicker, chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Jefferson.

This will be the first test in the world of robot-assisted brachytherapy for treating prostate cancer, he claimed.

Prostate brachytherapy, which requires accurate insertion of some 60-120 radioactive seeds in very specific places in the prostate, involves a high degree of clinical skill and attention to detail.

Currently, physicians use a plastic or metal template with holes in which to insert 15-20 needles that contain radioactive seeds into the prostate gland. But because this grid is thin, it is difficult for a person guiding it to push it smoothly and straightly through glandular tissue.

’With its motorised controls and imaging feedback, the robot can systemically place the seeds in a way we believe is more consistently accurate than a human can be,’ said Prof Yan Yu, a director of the Medical Physics Division in the Department of Radiation Oncology.

Yu led a team of medical physicists, engineers, radiation oncologists, radiologists and urologists who spent seven years developing the robotic system, which is called EUCLIDIAN.

It incorporates high-resolution ultrasound image processing, dose planning using genetic algorithms, 3D visualisation, smart needle rotation for reducing tissue deformation and prostate displacement, plus force feedback from nano-sensors. Needle insertion and seed delivery are fully automatic.

It is controlled by a physician via a handheld controller and a computer interface.

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