Researchers based out of ETH Zurich and the Helmholtz Institute Erlangen-Nuremberg for Renewable Energy have developed medical micro and Nano-sized robots. First presented in Nature Machine Intelligence in a paper by Daniel Ahmed et al., the robots were engineered with the intent of allowing doctors to access isolated regions of the human body without engaging in highly invasive procedures.
The robots could theoretically carry drugs or deliver other treatment through the body’s systems, such as through the bloodstream. The tiny robots have the capability to travel against the flow of a fluid, and this upstream motility is what makes it possible for them to deliver treatment to hard to reach areas.
The robots were inspired by naturally occurring micro swimmers, like bacteria or spermatozoa. They work by using acoustic-magnetic fields, which allows them to be easily controlled, non invasive, and to require less expensive components, as they do not require an on-board power supply. Essentially, they operate by the no-slip boundary conditions of a wall to autonomously move upstream.
This, along with the upstream motility, is what sets Ahmed and company’s research apart from previous Nano-bot attempts. The acoustic and magnetic fields used are safe to humans, and have been tested extensively in the clinical realm.
In the paper, Ahmed describes the research as, “A fundamental step towards the realization of micro-and Nano system navigation against the blood flow.”
The research has the potential to be a next-generation vehicle for targeted disease intervention. It follows a similar discovery by the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in May of 2020, which involved magnetically steering through the bloodstream micro-robots that resemble white blood cells.
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