Micro-Robot Inspired by Tardigrades Offers Breakthrough in Cancer

Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), in collaboration with leading biotechnology and robotics experts, has unveiled a groundbreaking micro-
Image Name - Micro-Robot Cancer
Image Name - Micro-Robot Cancer Image Source – SCMP

Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), in collaboration with leading biotechnology and robotics experts, has unveiled a groundbreaking micro-robot that could transform the landscape of cancer treatment. Inspired by the resilient tardigrade, known as the hardiest creature on Earth, this microscopic swimming robot has the potential to deliver drugs with exceptional precision within the human body. While the concept of tiny robots has long fascinated the public and scientific community, the challenges of biocompatibility, biodegradability, and navigability have hindered their practical application. However, a recent study led by Professors Wu Zhiguang and Zhao Jie from HIT has introduced a remarkable solution.

The micro-robot, resembling a miniature submarine with claws, boasts a three-layered shell. The inner magnetic layer generates power, while the middle gel layer facilitates connectivity. The outer membrane, cleverly disguised as a human cell, ensures biocompatibility and minimizes friction. The clawed structure, inspired by the tardigrade's microscopic appendages, enables the robot to navigate the interior of blood vessels effortlessly. Overcoming the challenge of movement against the flow of blood, the robot utilizes a rolling motion, akin to a wheel, under the control of an external rotating magnetic field.

Prof. Li Tianlong, one of the first authors of the paper and a prominent member of HIT, emphasized the significance of this breakthrough, stating, "The robot is like a screw when anchored, and could fight against intensive blood flow even after the magnetic field is removed." To enhance biocompatibility and reduce resistance, the surface of the robot cleverly mimics the structure of red blood cells, employing a technique called "tiling ceramics." By adhering small vesicles of red blood cell membranes to the gel layer, the robot gains not only enhanced biocompatibility but also improved surface smoothness and reduced resistance.

Imaging the micro-robot within the human body posed another considerable challenge due to its minuscule size. To overcome this obstacle, the research team employs real-time intravascular optical coherence tomography (IVOCT), a cutting-edge method in cardiology for blood vessel detection. The ability to track and guide the robot's position within blood vessels opens up exciting possibilities for future applications, particularly in drug delivery.

Currently, chemotherapy drugs are administered through intravenous injections, with only a meager 0.07 percent of the drug reaching the intended target area. However, with the aid of these micro-robots, efficient navigation and retention within veins could significantly improve drug delivery efficacy. By enabling drugs to be retained in specific areas, these robots have the potential to minimize dosage and mitigate potential side effects.

As this groundbreaking technology continues to advance, it holds promise for revolutionizing cancer treatment and other medical applications. The micro-robot's ability to precisely navigate the human body and deliver drugs directly to targeted areas may pave the way for more effective and personalized therapies, transforming the way we combat diseases at the cellular level.

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