Medical advances turn science fiction into science fact

Medical advances turn science fiction into science fact

PARIS - Exoskeletons helping the paralysed to walk, tiny maggot-inspired devices gnawing at brain tumours, machines working tirelessly as hospital helpers: in many respects, the future of medicine is already here.

Experts say that, at the experimental level, human skills are already being enhanced or replaced by robots and other hi-tech substitutes - and these may become commonplace just a few years from now.

"If one had spoken of this 10 years ago, people would have said it's science fiction. Today, it is a reality," French ophthalmologist Gerard Dupeyron said of one of the most advanced technologies helping people today - the bionic eye.

Some recent advances:

Tumour-eating "maggots"

Last year, scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore said they had developed a creepy-crawly device inspired by the humble maggot that zaps tumours with electricity and sucks up the debris.

The finger-like prototype has multiple joints allowing it to move in several directions, according to a press release from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which funded the work.

The idea for the tiny neurosurgical robot was born from the difficulty doctors have to reach many types of deep-seated tumours in the brain.

Researchers were testing the safety of the device in pigs and human cadavers.

Cancer-crunching claws

Inspired by crab pincers, scientists in Singapore created a tiny robot which can access a person's stomach via the throat to cut up tumours using miniature claws.

One robotic arm holds the tumour while the other slices away, according to the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), which took part in the research.

The procedure, that could take as little as 20 minutes, may one day eliminate the need for surgery, which can take hours.

The Master and Slave Transluminal Endoscopic Robot (MASTER) has been tested successfully in patients, according to the NTU.

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