They’re tiny, rectangular and can do backflips on rough terrain. Side flips, too. They’re polymer and metal microbots, and the hope is the teeny devices will one day transport drugs inside the human body.
Purdue University researchers developed the bots, which are the size of a few human hairs and powered by a magnetic field, aiming to deliver drugs to a precise site. That would mean avoiding side effects like hair loss or stomach bleeding, that drugs can cause as they work their way through the body.
“When we apply a rotating external magnetic field to these robots, they rotate just like a car tire would to go over rough terrain,” David Cappelleri, a Purdue associate professor of mechanical engineering, said in a university news release.
A study recently published in Micromachines is the first to show that a microbot can flip through a live biological system.
As a testing ground for the nontoxic and biocompatible devices, the scientists chose colons, specifically mice colons. They also worked in excised pig colons; porcine guts are similar to those of humans.
“Moving a robot around the colon is like using the people-walker at an airport to get to a terminal faster. Not only is the floor moving, but also the people around you,” said Luis Solorio, an assistant professor in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
Solorio’s lab also showed the bots can carry and carefully release a drug in a vial of saline.
“This means that we could potentially steer the microrobot to a location in the body, leave it there, and then allow the drug to slowly come out,” Solorio said.