In this MEDICA-tradefair.com interview, Lennart Karstensen talks about the development of AI-powered catheters, explains how the algorithm learns to navigate inside the vessels and reveals where the application could be used in the future.
Mr. Karstensen, you are working on setting up cardiac catheters with AI-powered navigation. How did you come up with the idea?
Lennart Karstensen: Catheter navigation is a complicated procedure, especially in the case of strokes, but also heart attacks. In difficult cases, the surgeon takes up to an hour to guide the catheter to the right site. Our project was created to assist and relieve the surgeon with the help of autonomous catheter navigation. The idea here is that the physician would then merely have to supervise the navigation process versus actively performing the task. This would allow him or her to focus more on the diagnosis and the actual treatment, which follows this process.
How does the navigation process work?
Karstensen: The artificial neural network learns how to use a manipulator to twist and slide the guidewire to steer it to its target destination. Here’s what this could look like in the future: once the catheter has been placed at the start of the procedure, X-rays are taken. A CT scan that was taken before the procedure also illustrates the patient’s vascular tree. Our project partner, the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Medicine MEVIS, has developed software for catheter tracking that tracks the position of the catheter inside the body.
Armed with these three pieces of information – the position of the catheter, the illustration of the vascular tree and the aim of the intervention – the goal is to guide the catheter autonomously to the target site. At present, this is still happening via phantoms, but the process already works reliably in this setting.
Does this mean you no longer require imaging during the procedure?
Karstensen: Not quite since you have to continually check the position of the catheter. Having said that, this process eliminates many doses of contrast medium administration, which the surgeon needs to visually track the catheter and find branch vessels. The neural network is able to remember the current position and the vessels with the accuracy of a computer and can proceed to navigate from there.