New micro-robots developed to address hard-to-treat illnesses


Scientists have developed a new form of miniature robot that could be used to diagnose and treat illness in hard-to-reach areas of the human body.

Created by Chinese University of Hong Kong in collaboration with the Universities of Edinburgh and Manchester, the robots are around the same size as a blood cell and can be guided magnetically to different sites.

“Miniaturised remotely-operated robots have been developed as a means of treating illness in hard-to-reach parts of the body.“

These robots were produced by coating tiny algae with non-harmful, biocompatible magnetic particles, and can smoothly swim in biological fluids, such as dilute blood and gastric fluid. By adjusting the thickness of the coating, the time taken for the robots to function and biodegrade can be customised.

In early tests, it was shown that these devices could be tracked in tissue close to the skin's surface by imaging the algae's natural luminescence, and in deeper tissue with the use of magnetic resonance imaging.

One potential application involves the incorporation of antitumour compounds into the algae core, which can be released during degradation to selectively attack cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.

Qi Zhou, of the University of Edinburgh's school of engineering, said: "A small-scale robot that can be remotely guided, is easily tracked and harmlessly biodegrades potentially overcomes many of the challenges faced by minimally invasive therapies."

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