The Week in Innovation

In the past five years, Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG  ) has gone from having its da Vinci surgical robot perform fewer than 1% of all prostatectomies to more than 50%. In reward for this amazing amount of progress, investors have seen the company's stock more than double in just the past year alone.

It is with this track record in mind that I'd like to bring your attention the news that Canadian researchers, in partnership with small, private start-up IMRIS, have created NeuroArm -- the world's first MRI-compatible, image-guided neurosurgical robot.

Many might think letting a robot perform surgery in their heads was a brain-dead idea. But apparently the tool has all the dexterity and accuracy of a carbon-based surgeon, and unlike its human counterpart, a robot doesn't get tired. This is a distinct advantage because many brain surgeries take hours to perform and even the best surgeon must fight to control fatigue while executing the high-precision work.

This and other progress in robotics clearly delineates future of robotic technology. So in addition to keeping track of Intuitive Surgical and IMRIS, interested investors will also want to put companies like Hansen Medical (Nasdaq: HNSN  ) and Stereotaxis (Nasdaq: STXS  ) on their radar screens.

More tiny advances 
A number of companies have made serious headway in applying nanotechnology to improve existing products -- such as DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) in the field of thermoplastics. Well, this week two more interesting innovations in carbon nanotubes research could soon work their way into the marketplace.

Researchers at the University of Texas have demonstrated that cancer cells can be destroyed by injecting carbon nanotubes directly into them and then zapping them with radio frequency waves. The frequency of the radiation can be controlled to leave the rest of the body undamaged. In other words, the days of current chemotherapy, which kills both bad and good cells, could be numbered.

At the University of California at Berkeley, researchers have fashioned the world's tiniest radio out of carbon nanotubes. Now, this device isn't the kind of radio you can listen to in your car, but in combination with microelectromechanical sensors (which measure blood sugar levels or identify cancer markers in the body) it could provide wireless communication between those sensors and an external monitor.

Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) have made no secret of their belief that computer chips could find a comfortable home inside the human body. This advancement takes us a step closer to the day one of those chips might tell you or your doctor it has detected an imminent threat to your health.

Printed organs?
Finally, in keeping with this week's health-care theme, Gabor Forgacs, a professor at the University of Missouri, has published a study documenting the progress he is making in "printing" human organs.

The technology, which uses bio-ink and bio-paper to facilitate the growth of cells, is not yet ready for prime time, and fully printed livers and kidneys are still a way off, but Forgacs is involved with a company called Organovo that is interested in licensing his technology.

The plan is to use it to grow organ tissue that pharmaceutical companies could use to test drugs. Testing drugs on these tissues would replace testing on animal and human subjects. This, in turn, could help speed the drug development process.

Foolish final word
Nothing in the health-care world seems to move with great speed, and this week's scientific advances are in the early stages of development. But look closely at robotic surgeries, in vivo computer diagnostics, and even "printed" organs, and you'll see that all are on the horizon.

The Foolish investor is encouraged to consider each field as possible long-term investments because, with this week's progress, we could be living a lot longer than we think.

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