How to deliver prescription drugs to hard-to-reach places inside the human body? Medical science could soon allow doctors to deploy tiny, self-propelled ‘microrobots’ to do the job. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder are designing microrobots that can travel through liquid at a rapid pace and can help cure illnesses and diseases. A study regarding the research was published in April in the journal ‘Small.’
Jin Lee, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering stated that these microrobots could be used to perform non-invasive surgeries.
“Instead of cutting into the patient, we can simply introduce the robots to the body through a pill or an injection, and they would perform the procedure themselves,” he said.
How will these microrobots perform?
Microrobots, which measure a mere 20 micrometres in diameter, have demonstrated incredible speed and potential. These tiny robots, several times smaller than human hair, can travel at speeds of approximately 3 millimetres per second, which is equivalent to 9,000 times their own length per minute. In terms of relative speed, they surpass even the cheetah.
What kind of diseases could microrobots treat?
The study involved the deployment of fleets of these microrobots to deliver doses of dexamethasone, a commonly used steroid medication, to the bladders of laboratory mice. The successful results indicate that these microrobots hold promise as a valuable tool for treating bladder diseases and other illnesses in humans.
“While microscale robots have generated considerable excitement in scientific circles, what captivates us is their potential for performing practical tasks within the body,” explained C. Wyatt Shields, co-author of the study and assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering.
What are these microrobots made of?
To create the microrobots, the research team uses biocompatible polymers, employing a technology akin to 3D printing. Resembling small rockets with three tiny fins, these machines possess an additional feature—an enclosed bubble of trapped air, just like a glass dunked upside-down in the water. When subjected to an acoustic field, such as that used in ultrasound, the trapped bubbles vibrate vigorously, propelling the robots forward by expelling water.
Interstitial cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome, affects millions of individuals in the United States and causes severe pelvic pain. Treatment for this condition can be uncomfortable, often requiring patients to visit clinics multiple times over several weeks for doctors to administer a harsh dexamethasone solution directly into the bladder via a catheter. It is a painful process for the patient. However, the introduction of microrobots can translate into some relief.