The simple yet versatile bio-inspired robots can revolutionize drug delivery and other operational tasks
Microtechnology has been utilized in a wide variety of disciplines including medical field and it is believed that micro and nanoscale engineering has a potential to revolutionize drug delivery and other operational tasks.
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Researchers from EPFL and ETH Zurich has recently presented a new method that can led to the development of simple yet sophisticated microrobots. The miniature robots based on the new method can enter human body, inject drugs at indented location and perform precise medical operations with high accuracy like clearing blocked arteries and stem cell culture which otherwise require complex surgeries. These microrobots can be created in various shapes. Ideally, they have to be automated but currently they are controlled remotely by an external user and ensure more efficient performance than conventional tools.
Unlike conventional robots, newly-designed robots are not stiff and rigid. The soft, motherless design gives them a specific shape during manufacturing and allows them to move wherever needed.
These microrobots had to undergo several processes before achieving the final shape. Firstly, nanoparticles are concealed under biocompatible hydrogel. Then an electromagnetic field is applied to move nanoparticels hidden at different parts of the robot.
Researchers have demonstrated how different microrobots can react under different circumstances like electromagnetic field can make robot swim in water and can force it to act in specific ways depending on the orientation of nanoparticles inside the gel. In the video, a bacterium-like flagellum mini robot bends and unfolds if heated up and when cooled down it can spin in many ways and at various speeds.
“We show that both a bacterium’s body and its flagellum play an important role in its movement,” said EPFL scientist Selman Sakar. “Our new production method lets us test an array of shapes and combinations to obtain the best motion capability for a given task.”
“Our research also provides valuable insight into how bacteria move inside the human body and adapt to changes in their microenvironment.”
Nanotechology is usually at the scale of 100 nm or less while microtechnology can extend up to one micrometer (one millionth of a meter) and both these systems are equally important in developing effective drug delivery systems and performing various medical operations.
Though microrobots hold tremendous potential to replace conventional methods but challenges remain. These mini robot need to be made more improved and efficient and researchers also realize that.
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Sakar says. “There are still many factors we have to take into account. For instance, we have to make sure that the microrobots won’t cause any side-effects in patients.”