VIDEO: Tiny ‘Transformer’ Robots Could Treat Blocked Arteries
Ilan Mester posted on July 02, 2015 |

Imagine swarms of microscopic robotic beads helping surgeons unblock arteries. This could become a reality in the near future if a group of mechanical engineers have their way.

These ‘transformer’ robots are the brainchild of engineers at Drexel University and South Korea’s Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology. Their goal is to create a microscopic surgical toolkit.

“Micro-robotics is still … in its infancy when it comes to medical applications,” says engineering professor MinJun Kim. “A project like this, because it is supported by leading institutions and has such a challenging goal, is an opportunity to push both medicine and micro-robotics into a new and exciting place.”

These tiny swimmers are essentially iron oxide beads. Chemical bonds and magnetic force are used to link three or more of them together. Their small size allows them to navigate their way through the bloodstream. A magnetic field provokes them to rotate, allowing the chain of robots to twist like a corkscrew.

Controlling the magnetic field gives researchers the ability to manipulate the speed and direction of the micro-bots. It also lets Kim and his team join various strands of robots together for the purpose of adding force. 

According to Kim, the micro-robotic swimmers should not cause an immune response in the body. “And we can adjust their size and surface properties to accurately deal with any type of arterial occlusion,” he says.

Kim says the swimmers were inspired by malicious bacteria (such as Borrelia burgdorferi) that harm the body by plowing through healthy tissue, resulting in cellular destruction. The researchers hope to apply this behavior to the swimmers so that they can assist a vascular probe that’s being designed by researchers at ETH Zurich.

The team says its procedure could one day become an alternative to stenting and angioplasty – two of the most popular procedures for treating blocked arteries.

“Current treatments for chronic total occlusion are only about 60 percent successful,” Kim said. “We believe that the method we are developing could be as high as 80-90 percent successful and possibly shorten recovery time.”

The group recently published an article in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research. For more information, visit Drexel University’s website.  

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