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Medical technology: tiny robots can move through human tissue


A swarm of robots swims through an eye for the first time

In hardly any other area are the advances in medical technology more reminiscent of science fiction novels and films than in nanoscience. A team of researchers recently reported on special nanorobots that are able to cross human tissue and swim freely in an eyeball. The tiny robots are to be used in the future to deliver medication in the body precisely to where it is needed.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems have developed a specially coated nanopropeller that is able to maneuver through dense tissue, such as that of a vitreous body in the human eye. So far, the nanorobots could only be controlled by liquids. By overcoming solid tissue, nanorobotics reaches a new level in medical technology. The results of the research were recently presented in the scientific journal "Science Advances".

Operations without intervention

As the international research team reports, the further development of nanorobots is a big step for medical technology. In the foreseeable future, it would be possible to carry out a large number of therapies without major surgery, where surgery is still required today. The nanorobots could be used as minimally invasive tools that use active ingredients exactly where they are needed, without having to travel through the gastrointestinal tract or through the bloodstream.

The smallest propeller machine in the world

The propeller-shaped nanorobots are just 500 nanometers wide. This means that they are 200 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. According to the research team, they are so small that they can slip through the close-meshed network of a solid tissue, such as is present in the vitreous body of the eye. "Their screw-like structure, size and slippery coating enable the nanopropellers to move relatively freely through one eye without damaging the delicate tissue around them," wrote the Max Planck research team.

Inspired by nature

Because the consistency inside the eye is particularly sticky and tough, the researchers used a very special, two-layer non-stick coating to prevent the robots from getting stuck in the tissue or hindering each other. "We were inspired by nature when it came to coating," student author Zhiguang Wu explains in a press release.

What do carnivorous plants and nanorobots have in common?

“We applied a liquid layer to the nanopropellers, as is the case with the carnivorous pitcher plant (Nepenthes),” explains Wu. The leaves of the pitcher plant create a kind of pit. When insects land on them, they find no hold on the slippery coating and fall inside, where they are digested by a liquid. According to the researchers, the same coating ensures that the nanorobots do not get stuck in the eye. "As slippery as the teflon coating on a frying pan," comments Wu.

With magnetic drive through the eye

The small robots can be controlled from the outside. They are driven by magnetism. According to the scientists, iron particles built into the propeller enable the mini-vehicle to be directed to the desired destination in a magnetic field.

Not only usable in the eye

"The magnetic drive of the nanorobots, their sufficiently small size and the slippery coating are not only in the eye, but can also be useful for the penetration of other tissues in the human body," adds Tian Qiu, another author of the study. So far, the movement of the propeller robots has only been tested within the dissected pig's eye. With a small needle, tens of thousands of the helical robots could be injected into the eye. The robots then move together as a swarm. (vb)

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Video: This Tiny Robot made at Georgia Tech is Barely Visible (January 2022).