New £4m lab opens at Imperial College

A £4 million mini-factory for developing the next generation of miniaturised medical devices and robots is now open

The EPSRC Micro-Machining Facility for Medical Robotics was officially opened by Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, and Dr Lesley Thompson, Director of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The new Facility will be led by Professor Guang-Zhong Yang, Director of the Hamlyn Centre and will provide a national hub for academia and industry in the UK for developing of a range of miniaturised surgical robotics to improve the diagnosis of diseases and drug therapies for patients.

The need for improvements in surveillance and earlier diagnosis of conditions, along with an increasing proportion of minimally invasive procedures being carried out by surgeons that target smaller lesions, requires the development of new types of miniaturised robots for surgery.

Thanks to advances in rapid prototyping technologies, micro-fabrication and micro-machining processes, along with the development of advanced materials that are compatible with the body, researchers at the Facility will now be able to build a range of cutting edge surgical tools and smart implants that can deliver targeted therapies with micro-instruments that also have integrated sensing and imaging technology.

Professor Guang-Zhong Yang said: “At Imperial we are already in the process of developing a range of miniaturised medical robots and smart surgical devices that improve the way patients in the UK are cared for. Thanks to the foresight of the Engineering and Physical Research Council, this new Facility will speed up and improve development and production processes not only for the Hamlyn staff but also for researchers across the College and at other institutions.”

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To develop miniaturised surgical robotic devices in the past, researchers at the College had to undergo a prolonged and costly design and construction process that involved getting parts made off-campus by a range of suppliers, which could take weeks and often months. The new Facility, which is funded by the EPSRC, brings the entire construction process in-house, which could cut development time down significantly. 

The Facility will house advanced 3D printers for researchers to print components for surgical devices with features ranging in size from the microscopic to the nano-scale. The 3D printers will provide precision 3D rapid prototyping of components that will be made from advanced materials that range from thermoplastics, to photopolymers, and metal, which are bio-compatible with the body.

In order to build these components, the researchers have also installed a range of machines including imaging technology such as the micro CT that uses x-rays that will enable the researchers to see in real-time the tiny components they are working on. The Facility is also equipped with a micro-machine assembly line for compiling new components.

The Facility is part of the UK Robotics Network, which is led by the Hamlyn Centre, to spearhead and coordinate the development of surgical robotics in this country. The launch was attended by a range of stakeholders including major funding bodies and representatives from industry and academia.

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