Microrobots Could Treat Diseases from Inside Your Bloodstream
It may sound like some kind of sequel to "Fantastic Voyage," but researchers have started developing microscopic robots that could enter blood vessels to treat illnesses.
Researchers from Korea's Hanyang University in Seoul and Chonnam National University in Gwangju have been working on such robots, which measure less than one millimeter in diameter. The idea is to insert these tiny medical machines into a patient's bloodstream and "steer" them to a problem area that needs treatment, like a blood clot.
"Since the microrobot is capable of navigating through the fluidic or tubular environments in 3D space, [it] can reach various organs of the human body, such as the circulatory system, the central nervous system, the urinary system, the eye and others," Seungmun Jeon, a Ph.D. student at Hanyang University who worked on the project, told InnovationNewsDaily.
"After the microrobot reaches a target point, it can sense diseases, dig into clots and deliver drugs to cure the diseased area."
The team has been working on the project since 2007.
The team plans to use an external magnetic field to propel the robot through the human body. Currently, the robots can execute two different types of movement: a corkscrew-like "digging" that takes them forward and backward, and a side-to-side sliding motion.
The navigation system and maneuvers were recently tested in a lab trial. The researchers successfully guided the microrobots through a water-filled simulated blood vessel. However, the team expects its share of challenges, including developing and perfecting certain components for the robot, like a micro-drill tip to improve digging, and a mechanism that will smoothly release drugs into the bloodstream.
"We expect the microrobot can diagnose, treat or prevent some diseases in the human body such as the chronic total occlusions in the coronary artery, meningitis in the brain, retina vein occlusions in the eye, and so on," Jeon told INO.
Jeon said he hoped the microrobot could eventually serve as an alternative to treatments such as angioplasty, which uses catheters that can have limited use when dealing with twisted, narrow blood vessels.
"We expect that the microrobot [will] not only overcome the limitations of the conventional treatment, but also be utilized as a preventive and minimally invasive medicine," Jeon said.