Design of a Soft Catheter for Low-Force and Constrained Surgery

Patrick Slade1, Alexander Gruebele1, Zachary Hammond1, Michael Raitor1, Allison Okamura1, Elliot Wright Hawkes2

  • 1Stanford University
  • 2University of California, Santa Barbara



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Surgeries involving interaction with soft tissue like the brain need to minimize shear and normal forces that can cause tissue damage or hemorrhage. Other surgeries require the ability to follow a complex, curved path, such as through an intestine or to a kidney stone. This paper presents a soft catheter that has the potential to aid in these challenging cases. The soft catheter is capable of apical extension in which the tip extends while the rest of the catheter remains stationary. This limits shear forces with the environment, easing movement of a body’s tip through a constrained space. The soft catheter is pre-formed to patient-specific trajectories, meaning that normal forces against tissue would only arise due to errors between the actual and desired paths; we show decrease in normal force applied to the environment on the order of 100 compared to a standard catheter in a 30 degree bend. Setting the internal pressure allows for control of catheter stiffness, with a 500 times difference over the range of tested pressures. Manual operation to reach a surgical site requires only holding the correct orientation at the entry point into the body and setting the internal pressure of the catheter. This soft catheter could offer two benefits: the ability to apply low tissue interaction forces and reach challenging locations within the body.

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