After the introduction of the minimally invasive surgery about 20 years ago and the so called monoport surgery, the next step in reducing the trauma during surgery is NOTES (Natural Orifice Transluminal Endoscopic Surgery). In this technique, the access to the operating field is made without any scars (“scarless surgery”) with flexible endoscopes through natural orifices (e.g. the stomach or the vagina). After making an incision of a suitable access into the concerned hollow organ the abdominal cavity can be entered with the flexible endoscope. However, for these interventions only conventional endoscopes are currently available, which were developed for the examination of the gastrointestinal tract. But interventions in the abdomen require higher forces and additional degrees of freedom for the exposure and for the necessary manipulations during the therapy. This can be achieved only by making the shaft of the endoscope stiffer. However, a permanent stiffness implies the difficulty of not reaching the perfect incision site in the stomach or the sigmoid colon.
Therefore, it is the aim of the project to build a flexible endoscope, which is divided into several sections and which can be stiffened temporarily and guided actively by means of an overtube, a tubular supporting structure, which is pulled over the instrument. In contrast to the previously known mechanical solutions, this should be implemented based on electro-active polymers, plastics, which can be changed in shape by electrical voltages. These are arranged in correspondingly small segments around the endoscope, so that precise control is possible.
Another field of work in this project is the development of a suitable user-interface. Ideally, the overtube can be controlled by the surgeon without having to take his hand from the endoscope. Several innovative concepts are to develop and analyze. The gesture recognition or eye-tracking, which could allow a non-contact input, may be used.
The AiF industrieller Forschungsvereinigungen „Otto von Guericke“ e.V. funded project is being carried out jointly with ZINS Ziegler Instruments GmbH and is to be completed by 31.5.2014 after starting on 1.1.2012.