Miniature ‘origami robots’ that can flip, spin, and SWIM could dispense medicines around the body
It may sound like the “Fantastic Voyage” plot, but miniature robots that can travel through the human body and deliver medicines may soon become a reality.
Stanford University researchers have developed a “millirobot” that can roll, twist, turn and even swim to enter narrow spaces.
The fingertip-sized machine is inspired by the Japanese paper-folding art of origami and can be controlled using magnets – which deliver drug treatments directly to a tumor, blood clot, infection or pain point.
The millirobot, the researchers say, could revolutionize medicine by replacing pills or intravenous injections that can cause unwanted side effects.
In the 1966 sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage, a submarine and its crew are shrunk and injected into a dying patient, where they venture through his veins into his brain, destroying a blockade using laser guns.
Origami millirobot with spinning propulsion. The fingertip-sized machine is inspired by the Japanese paper folding art of origami and can be controlled with magnets
In the 1966 sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage, a submarine and its crew are shrunk and injected into a dying patient, where they venture through his veins into his brain and destroy a blockade using laser guns.
The new millirobot is less than a third of an inch wide (7.8 mm) and is equipped with a magnetic plate
The new millirobot is less than a third of an inch wide (7.8 mm) and is equipped with a magnetic plate.
It can quickly travel over the smooth, uneven surfaces of an organ and swim through bodily fluids, propelling itself wirelessly as it transports liquid drugs.
Unlike tablets that are swallowed or liquids injected, it holds back drugs until “it hits the target and then releases a highly concentrated drug,” said Stanford University mechanical engineer Renee Zhao.
“This is how our robot achieves targeted drug delivery,” she said.
The groundbreaking design goes beyond most origami-based robots, which only use foldability to control how they change and move.
It also takes advantage of the folding motion to perform certain actions, such as squeezing medicine—much like an accordion squeezing air.
dr. Zhao and her team also considered how the rigidity of the robot’s expanded form lends itself to propulsion through the environment.
This allowed the US team to get more out of the materials without adding bulk.
The more functionality achieved with a single structure, the less invasive the procedure, explains Dr. Zhao out.
Another unique aspect of the design is the combination of certain geometric features – including a long hole in the center and angled slots on the sides – to reduce water resistance and increase efficiency.
dr. Zhao said, “This design creates a negative pressure in the robot for fast swimming, while providing suction for cargo retrieval and transportation.
“We take full advantage of the geometric features of this small robot and explore that one structure for different applications and for different functions.”
The millirobot can swim through bodily fluids, withhold drugs until it reaches the target, then release a high concentration drug
The new millirobot can travel quickly across the smooth, uneven surfaces of an organ, according to mechanical engineer Renee Zhao of Stanford University
dr. Zhao is working on several millirobot designs, including a magnetic crawling robot that can work its way through a stomach.
This robot is also powered by magnetic fields, allowing it to move continuously and change direction in the blink of an eye.
The methods of locomotion are chosen by themselves, depending on the obstacles it has to overcome in the body – ranging from organs to streams of fluid.
Just by changing the strength and orientation of the magnetic field, the bot can sail ten times its length in one jump, said Dr. Zhao.
The new swimming robot, the first of its kind, is one of the most advanced robots.
The robot is currently being tested prior to animal testing. If they are successful, human clinical trials will follow.
The ‘millirobot’ can roll, twist, turn and even swim to get into tight spaces.
dr. Zhao also plans to further downsize her robots to advance micro-scale biomedical research.
It is hoped that her robots will eventually carry instruments or cameras inside the body and dispense drugs, and could change the way doctors examine patients.
“We started looking at how all these parallels work,” she said.
“This is a very unique point of this work, and it also has broad potential application in the biomedical field.”
The study, funded by the National Science Foundation and the American Heart Association, was published in Nature Communications.
Tiny robots could be sent on a journey to human BRAINS by a California startup
According to a California start-up, miniature robots could be sent deep into the human brain to treat conditions inaccessible in other ways.
Bionaut Labs plans to conduct its first human clinical trials in two years’ time for its tiny injectable robots, which can be carefully guided through the brain using magnets.
In collaboration with the prestigious German research institutes Max Planck, they chose magnets to propel the robot because it does not harm the human body.
Magnetic coils placed outside the patient’s skull are connected to a computer that can remotely and subtly maneuver the microrobot into the affected area of the brain.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted final approval for clinical trials related to the treatment of Dandy-Walker syndrome, as well as malignant gliomas – cancerous brain tumors often considered inoperable.