Robot Snakes Could Help Fight Cancer

By David Wharton | Published

For many people the thought of snakes slithering around their innards is the stuff of nightmares. But scientists are hoping that this skin-crawling scenario could help fight a far more frightening opponent: cancer. A British robotics company has designed a robotic snake that could someday allow doctors to hunt and remove tumors in a minimally invasive way.

Meet Dr. Snake-Bot, M.D.

As reported by the BBC, the snake-bots were showcased at the International Conference on Oncological Engineering last month at the University of Leeds in the UK. Designed by OC Robotics in Bristol, the robots will be able to enter the body either by an incision or one of the available orifices, and will then allow the controlling surgeon to “snake” his way into parts of the body that would otherwise require major invasive surgery.

The snake-bots are only at the prototype stage so far, and haven’t been used on any actual patients as yet, but the concept is sound. Nor would the snakes be the first robotic technology enlisted for the fight against cancer. As Safia Danovi from Cancer Research UK explains, “Thanks to research, innovations such as keyhole surgery and robotics are transforming the treatment landscape for cancer patients and this trend needs to continue.” That includes a device known as a “DaVinci robot,” a human-sized robot sporting four arms ending in pincers and…er…

Okay, are we sure these things weren’t designed by a super-villain? Because this all still sounds vaguely terrifying. I can’t stop envisioning Mr. Burns hissing, “Bring in the robo-snakes.”

In all seriousness, though, this stuff is fascinating, and anything that helps doctors battle the Big C is a good thing. If it all gives you the willies, take the word of somebody who’s been through a cancer-related major abdominal surgery: I’d have preferred the robo-snakes.