Tiny Microbots can deliver drugs and perform medical operations

Scientists from the EPFL and ETHZ have worked together to create some very interesting medical microbots that are tiny enough to be introduced into the human body to perform specific tasks. These tiny robots are being studied as a way to treat a variety of diseases and are designed to enter the body and deliver drugs at a specific location or to perform precise operations like clearing clogged arteries.

These bots have the potential to reduce the number of surgeries currently required for various procedures. The scientists include Selman Sakar from EPFL and the duo of Hen-Wei Huang and Bradley Nelson from ETHZ are working on several robot designs that use different modes of locomotion. Their work as published in Nature Communications.

One of the tiny microbots is soft, flexible, and has no motor. It uses a biocompatible hydrogel and magnetic nanoparticles that have two functions. Those nanoparticles give the tiny robots shape during the manufacturing process and allow the robots to swim when an electromagnetic field is applied. When heat is applied to the robots, they unfold. The robots mimic the bacterium that casus African trypanosomiasis known as sleeping sickness.

"We show that both a bacterium's body and its flagellum play an important role in its movement," said 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."

The microbots are still in development now and the team is studying any potential side effects when introduced to the human body. The team did produce a prototype microbot that has a bacterium-like flagellum that allows it to swim. When heated with a laser, the flagellum wraps around the robot's body.