Researchers have developed an implantable medical robot capable of stimulating tissue growth in stunted organs without causing discomfort.
The system was able to induce cell proliferation and lengthen part of the oesophagus in a large animal by about 75 per cent, even as the animal remained awake and mobile.
The researchers from Boston Children's Hospital in the US claim, the system could treat long-gap oesophageal atresia, a rare birth defect in part of the oesophagus. It can also be used to lengthen the small intestine in short bowel syndrome.
In the most effective current operation for long-gap esophageal atresia, called the Foker process, sutures anchored on the patient's back are used to gradually pull on the oesophagus.
To prevent the oesophagus from tearing, patients need to be paralysed in a medically induced coma and placed on mechanical ventilation in the intensive care unit for one to four weeks. The long period of immobilisation could lead to medical complications such as bone fractures and blood clots.
"This project demonstrates proof-of-concept that miniature robots can induce organ growth inside a living being for repair or replacement, while avoiding the sedation and paralysis currently required for the most difficult cases of oesophageal atresia," said Russell Jennings, from the Boston Children's Hospital.
The robot's patients would not require to be put in coma and they would be able to move around and perform their daily functions while the robot worked on the traction to increase the size of the food pipe according to researchers.
The team designed a tiny robotic system that has a motor and is attached to the esophagus and has a ''smooth, biocompatible, waterproof'' covering or skin with two attachment rings on either side.
The rings are placed around the esophagus and sutured into place and the robot can then be controlled from outside using a programmable control unit that provides slow and steady traction or pull forces at the two rings to lengthen the tissue in desired direction and size.