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Origami Inspiring Smaller Surgical Tools

iStock/Thinkstock(PROVO, Utah) — Techniques used in ancient art of origami are being folded into the high-tech world of modern medicine, thanks to a partnership between robotic surgical device developer Intuitive Surgical and Brigham Young University.

In a video promoting the partnership with the company that created the groundbreaking da Vinci surgical robot, BYU mechanical engineering teams are using folds familiar to experts of the paper art to create a new generation of tiny tools. "The whole concept is to make smaller and smaller incisions," professor Larry Howell explains. "To that end, we're creating devices that can be inserted into a tiny incision and then deployed inside the body to carry out a specific surgical function."

Just as origami inspired NASA engineers to fold solar arrays and other gear for launch into space -- and unfold them again in orbit -- these techniques are being used along with 3D printing to create cutting edge, sometimes literally, surgical instruments.

Professor Spencer Magleby says in the video, "These small instruments will allow for a whole new range of surgeries to be performed -- hopefully one day manipulating things as small as nerves."

The team showed off one such prototype, a robotically-controlled pair of pincers small enough to fit through an incision about the thickness of two pennies stacked together.

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