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August 2012

2 men with micromotor jpeg
RMIT University’s Professor James Friend, holding the micromotor, with the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Associate Professor Bernard Yan.

World first in micro-technology brings hope on stroke

A partnership between the Royal Melbourne Hospital and RMIT University could see the world’s strongest micromotor revolutionise stroke treatment.

The motor is small enough to fit through the tiny vessels of the brain and has the equivalent driving power of a small kitchen appliance.

It is only 250 microns wide – about the width of a human hair and the size of a grain of salt.

It has been developed with the aim of treating strokes – caused by blocked arteries – and cerebral aneurysms – weaknesses in brain arteries in patients who cannot be saved with standard neurointervention endovascular tools.

The technological breakthrough came when Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University Professor James Friend, RMIT’s Professor Leslie Yeo and Royal Melbourne Hospital neurointerventionist Associate Professor Bernard Yan recognised the need to drastically improve the surgical equipment used to manage these life-threatening conditions.

Associate Professor Yan said current neurointervention procedures were unsuccessful about 15 per cent of the time – so the need to develop better tools was pressing.

‘To treat patients who have suffered a stroke or cerebral aneurysms, we use microcatheters of flexible plastic with permanently-bent tips to navigate a patient’s arteries into the brain to reach and treat the target.

‘The process is akin to navigating wet paper tubes with a half-boiled piece of spaghetti.

‘Because the current tools are not flexible enough to work through the tiny brain vessels, sometimes they can puncture an artery, resulting in disability or death.

‘This tiny motor means we can now look to develop instruments which can be steered with precision, guiding the catheter to its destination more quickly and accurately.

‘This will have a dramatic improvement in stroke survival rates and improve our patients’ quality of life,’ Associate Professor Bernard Yan said.

Professor Friend said others had tried, with little success, bicycle-cable pulling schemes, advanced electroactive polymers, magnetic fields and even plastic that expanded on exposure to light.

‘These methods are either too risky, need too much time to work, are too large to navigate the half-millimetre diameter arteries of the brain or offer poor control.

‘The first step in solving the problem was to develop a motor small enough to pass through the vessels with sufficient torque to drive itself and the catheter along.

‘Now, we plan to place it on the tip of the micro-guidewire that is first inserted during endovascular procedures, allowing the tip to bend in whatever direction the neurointerventionist needs.

‘We have shown that the patented micromotor technology works – and are now aiming to deliver the micro-guidewire with the motor,’ Professor James said.

The motor was developed over the past six years at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication with National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council and CASS Foundation funding.