Here’s how origami is revolutionising surgery

9 Mar 2016

Mechanical engineers have teamed origami up with medical technology to develop the next wave of surgical tools, which will hopefully mean less invasive surgery for all.

Inspired by the need to operate with ever-smaller tools, researchers from Brigham Young University (BYU) have utilised origami’s process of manipulating sheets into narrow positions to create a series of surgical devices.

With the help of 3D-printing capabilities, professors Larry Howell and Spencer Magleby have basically thought of a way to build miniature devices that could, one day, drastically reduce the invasiveness of certain surgical procedures.

The size of the holes needed to work these devices through will be so small that they will be able to heal themselves, without the need for suturing.

Surgery origami

BYU student Jason Dearden helps with the origami-inspired research at BYU. Image via Mark Philbrick

Ironically, the company the duo has teamed up with is Intuitive Surgical, which is behind the surgery robot ‘da Vinci’, which performs suturing.

BYU’s team has engineered new design concepts that don’t need pin joints and other parts, but rather rely on the deflection used in origami to create motion.

These surgical creations follow the same route as some of the devices Magelby and Howell have devised for NASA to use in space, which, again, rely on origami’s use of pressure.

Getting things like solar arrays up to space requires them to be very compact, however, once up there, the idea is they expand and do a job with little need for additional parts. The surgical creations dealt with here do something similar, fitting through tiny incisions and then expanding and operating in a larger form within.

“These small instruments will allow for a whole new range of surgeries to be performed –hopefully, one day, manipulating things as small as nerves,” Magleby said.

“The origami-inspired ideas really help us to see how to make things smaller and smaller and to make them simpler and simpler.”

The tool showed in the following video is a robotically-controlled forceps. It’s so small that it can pass through a hole about 3mm in size. The findings are published in Mechanism and Machine Theory.

Main origami image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic