A new study claims the development of microbots which can be used for diagnosis, delivery of drugs and assist doctors in medical operations, will soon become a reality. The robots are designed to enter a patient’s body where they can mimic how bacteria move. The microbots can improve medical operations by replacing invasive surgery.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications by Selman Sakar, a scientist from EPFL, a research institution in Lausanne, Switzerland, in collaboration with Hen-Wei Huang and Bradley Nelson, from ETHZ University in Zurich.
According to the development team, they are trying to create a simple method for producing small and versatile robots, with a design inspired by nature and equipped with various advanced features. They’ve also developed a testing platform for several robot designs in order to study what ways of movement are the most efficient inside a human body.
The scientists managed to create flexible, soft and motor-less robots using a sort of biocompatible hydrogel and magnetic nanoparticles which have two functions. First, they give the robots their shape when they are manufactured, and second, they make the microbots able to move and swim when the electromagnetic field (EMF) is present.
The first step in creating these types of nano bots is to place nanoparticles in layers of biocompatible hydrogel and afterward apply an EMF for the orientation of the particles in different parts of the microbots. To solidify the gel, they use a process called polymerization. Finally, the robots are placed in water to observe how they move depending on the orientation of the nanoparticles inside the gel.
The final form of the microbots is shaped using 3D architecture and use an EMF to make them swim. Exposure to heat makes the robots change shape.
According to the researchers, this type of process allows them to create robots able to mimic certain bacteria like the sleeping sickness parasite, less commonly known as the African trypanosomiasis, which uses a flagellum for propulsion.
In a press release, Dr. Sakar said that the microbots are still under development while they still examine possible side-effects of the microbots in patients and test other various functions they can fulfill.
What do you think about this new technology? Would you prefer to have microbots inserted in your body over invasive surgery?
Image credit: The screen grab showing the microbot is courtesy of EPFL.