New cell-sized robots electromagnetically navigate the bloodstream to deliver medical treatment
Small enough for injection without leaving a wound, new microrobots could revolutionize the way modern medicine treats certain hard-to-reach areas of the body. The eyes and brain are extremely tricky places for surgeons, and a non-invasive solution to certain ailments has long been sought. The impediments to this are numerous, however, and range from producing to controlling to excreting any tiny agents that might be up to the job.
Now Chinese University researchers say they’ve created a working microbot for internal use, a cage-like structure just 100 microns long by 40 microns wide. Its inventors coat the cage shape in a thin layer of nickel, giving it the magnetic properties they require to guide it through to body after insertion. The electromagnetic field used to guide the little “robot” can push them through the body with extreme accuracy. In tests, the researchers were able to show that their robot successfully delivered a drug payload to the predetermined target cells.
The current methods of delivering drugs throughout the body are insufficient to treat many serious ailments, such as retinal degeneration and the brain issues that can lead to stroke. A researcher on the project claimed that the microbot is a “truck, not a car” in terms of its carrying capacity, and the proportion of its overall size used for cargo storage. Despite the increased capacity, this new microbot is too small to be tracked by current standards in resonance imaging, which have been the method of tracking microbots up until now. The team is working to improve the resolution so it can directly track the movement of these little drug mules.
Zhang claims that by injecting thousands of the microbots in the vertebral column and directing them to the brain, they could theoretically cure strokes without the need for brain surgery. Since the cages are distinct from whatever medicine they carry, a generalized carrier for each of many tissue types could be stored in hospitals, to be filled with the appropriate drug, as needed. The researchers are currently working only with rabbits and mice, but human trails are a short-term goal.