Vanderbilt University professors have developed a steerable robotic needle that can perform surgery on parts of the human brain that were previously considered too dangerous for physical intervention. Specifically aimed at relieving the effects of cranial blood clots, which have a 40 percent lethality rate, the new technology moves us forward from the present drug-based treatments. The only issue with it, perhaps, is that the process looks and sounds more like a disconcerting sci-fi scenario than a real-world medical breakthrough.

The robot surgeon is composed of two very thin tubes. The other one is straight and used to insert the probe into the brain after a small hole has been drilled into the skull. Inside it is a flexible rotating tube, which is then extended into the blood clot and used to suction out the troublesome mass without causing collateral damage. A human is only required to determine the best position and angle of insertion — the robot is then guided by CT scans in operating the suction tube.

Vanderbilt's researchers report their simulations show up to 92 percent of a blood clot can be removed by using this method. While further study and testing will obviously be required, they describe their project as being among the closest to commercialization in this field, with graduate student Philip Swaney proclaiming, "I like the idea of working on something that will begin saving lives in the very near future."