Robotic Instruments Inside the MRI Bore: Key Concepts and Evolving Paradigms in Imaging-enhanced Cranial Neurosurgery

World Neurosurg. (2023) 176:127-139

Intraoperative MRI has been increasingly used to robotically deliver electrodes and catheters into the human brain using a linear trajectory with great clinical success.

Current cranial MR guided robotics do not allow for continuous realtime imaging during the procedure because most surgical instruments are not MR-conditional. MRI guided robotic cranial surgery can achieve its full potential if all the traditional advantages of robotics (such as tremor-filtering, precision motion scaling, etc.) can be incorporated with the neurosurgeon physically present in the MRI bore or working remotely through controlled robotic arms.

The technological limitations of design optimization, choice of sensing, kinematic modeling, physical constraints, and real-time control had hampered early developments in this emerging field, but continued research and development in these areas over time has granted neurosurgeons far greater confidence in using cranial robotic techniques.

This article elucidates the role of MR-guided robotic procedures using clinical devices like NeuroBlate and Clearpoint that have several thousands of cases operated in a “linear cranial trajectory” and planned clinical trials, such as LAANTERN for MR guided robotics in cranial neurosurgery using LITT and MR-guided putaminal delivery of AAV2 GDNF in Parkinson’s disease. The next logical improvisation would be a steerable curvilinear trajectory in cranial robotics with added DOFs and distal tip dexterity to the neurosurgical tools. Similarly, the novel concept of robotic actuators that are powered, imaged, and controlled by the MRI itself is discussed in this article, with its potential for seamless cranial neurosurgery.