Medicine & Microbots?.....#Medicine #Medicare #Engineering #STEM #MedicalDevice #Pharma

Micro-robots or microbots are the subject of study for long. Ever since the development of first microchip in 1958 by Jack Kilby there has been much progress in the field which resulted in bringing down the size of various electronic components. Micro-robots can be said to be the latest advancement in the field. The use of micro-robots in medical field has been proposed and there has been in-depth study during the past five years in this subject. Use of miniature robots to deliver drugs at specific location within the human body will certainly increase the precision and effectiveness of various treatment processes. Use of micro-robots is also being considered for performing complicated and precision surgeries such as de-clogging of arteries replacing the invasive methods.

Recent breakthrough in microbot technology for medicine

As per the recent publication in Nature Communications Selman Sakar, a scientist with EPFL, recently made a breakthrough while working with Bradley Nelson and Hen-Wei Huang, both scientists from ETHZ, in bio-inspired robotic development. The team has successfully devised a miniature robot which can be remotely controlled, their mobility managed using electromagnetic fields and which can change shape with the help of heat. This revolutionary technology opens up a plethora of opportunities for further developments. It has also made possible to test various designs of the robots and their locomotion.

A microbot inspired by bacterium

As per the report published, these micro-robots were designed after closely studying the various bacteria which move with ease within the human body. The most unique feature of these microbots is the absence of any motors within it. These are completely made up of magnetic nanoparticles encased within biocompatible hydrogel. These nanoparticles perform two different types of functions – at the time of manufacturing these particles gives shape to the robot and at the time of operation they help with locomotion when electromagnetic field is applied.

Development of the micro-robot

The development process involved a number of steps which resulted in the final micro-robot being manufactured. The manufacturing process begins with placement of the magnetic nanoparticles within the biocompatible hydrogel layers. Electromagnetic field helps in aligning the nanoparticles in the way they are supposed to be at different parts. Finally hydrogel is polymerized to make it hard. Once hard, the robot is placed within water for it to take the shape as determined by the orientation of the nanoparticles and transform into the 3D version it is meant to be.

Researchers have been known to use the bacterium African trypanosomiasis which is known to cause sleeping sickness. This bacterium uses flagellum to get into the bloodstream and then hides the flagellum as a defense mechanism. The microbot also uses flagellum similar to the bacterium to propel itself and then uses laser to heat the flagellum, which then changes shape and wraps around the body in order to hide itself.

Understanding bacterium

The development of the microbot included a deeper understanding about how the bacterium behaves within the body. The use of flagellum for propulsion is an important feature which is common in many bacteria. Studies are being conducted to know how any bacterium behaves to the microenvironment surrounding it. These studies will help with further development of the micro-robot technology.  Then the application for use will expand 10X for implementation on any number of studies in the future.

Conclusion

The development of micro-robot is still at a developmental stage and yet to be put to practical use.  There are now many more researchers (including us) that are undergoing feasibility and scope studies to develop the next generation of test to conduct.  With many unknown variables to determine functional use within the body, can be a cause of concern as to bio-compatibility and risk of infection.  However, as research is known to progress at a breakneck pace, it is only a matter of time (hopefully we can claim a novel way to utilize tech within this scope) until a feasible opportunity will present itself.  Maybe there will be a day in which surgery will be a thing of the past?

 

Reginald Swift