Dr. Ka-Wai Kwok was awarded ITF fund for development of robot assistant for MRI-guided neurosurgery

Dr. Ka-Wai Kwok of the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has recently secured HK$8.5M funding (MRP/029/20X) for development of soft robotic assistant for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided stereotactic brain biopsy and neurosurgery from Innovation Technology Commission, via Midstream Research Programme (MRP).

Project Title: Multi-stage Soft Robotic Assistant for Intra-operative MRI-guided Stereotactic Brain Biopsy and Neurosurgery

Needle-based stereotactic procedures are an integral part of the diagnosis, treatment, and management of abnormalities of the brain such as tumors, Parkinson’s disease (PD) and dystonia. Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is one example of a common and highly aggressive cancer of the brain that is traditionally difficult to treat because of inter- and intra-tumor heterogeneity. The rapidly growing trend of personalized medicine has shown great promise in treating GBM but relies heavily on precise needle biopsy to obtain the molecular profile of tumors (e.g. physiologic, genetic, epigenetic features).

Prevailing practice is to create roadmap to guide surgeons towards these targets in the brain by pre-operative MRI. However, significant deformation of contents inside the brain, namely “brain shift” can occur during stereotactic procedures. This causes misalignment of the pre-operative planning path beyond the actual anatomy of interest. Patients have to go through MRI scanner during the procedure for ensuring the needle is placed accurately to the target, creating a major challenge for safe and accurate needle placement during biopsy or treatment.

The goal of this project is to develop and validate a magnetic resonance (MR)-safe/conditional system that integrates a multi-stage soft robotic needle positioner, intra-operative MRI, and real-time omni-directional MR-tracking markers to improve the accuracy of needle placement for stereotactic procedures (e.g. deep brain stimulation). With the use of proposed technology, highly precise tumor biopsies and other needle-based procedures can be performed without moving patients between MRI scanner and operation theatre. Operation time could be significantly saved with safe and streamlined procedural workflow under MRI. Potential clinical outcomes of this work would not only benefit the increasing population of patients affected by brain tumors, movement and schizoaffective disorders, but also facilitate cutting-edge precision medicine which depends heavily on precise genetic sampling of tumors.

About Midstream Research Programme for Universities (MRP)

The Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) aims to increase the added value, productivity and competitiveness of our economic activities. MRP, one of the funding programmes under ITF, aims to encourage universities funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) to collaborate with leading research institutes worldwide to conduct more theme-based inter-disciplinary and translational research and development (R&D) work in focused technology areas