A team of researchers at Drexel University has developed nanoscale robots capable of linking up with one another and “swimming” through liquid to someday deliver treatments to a specific target.
Using a magnetic field, the engineers were able to control the robots in a way that could make them ideal for drug delivery, and they found that by increasing the length of the chains, they could make the robots swim faster. For instance, a 13-bead chain traveled at up to 17.85 microns per second.
An important aspect of the system is that it can perform complex tasks with only simple commands from a single magnetic field. Like a propeller in water, the chains spin at a speed consistent with the magnitude of the field. This also controls whether the beads are connected or apart, which can help contain or release drugs as needed.
“We believe microswimmer robots could one day be used to carry out medical procedures and deliver more direct treatments to affected areas inside the body,” lead author U Kei Cheang said. “They can be highly effective for these jobs because they’re able to navigate in many different biological environments, such as the blood stream and the microenvironment inside a tumor.”
The university is looking to use the nanocarriers (well down the road) to perform minimally invasive surgery on blocked arteries. Drexel has partnered with other labs around the world since last year in an $18 million effort to roll out the technology before 2020.
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