Tiny robots may be next big drug-delivery thing

Forget radiation, microneedle drug patches, stents, inhalers or capsules. Researchers in Korea are trying to develop a way to use microrobots as either the drug delivery system or the treatment itself.

Scientists at Hanyang University in Seoul and Chonnam National University in Gwangju believe that microrobots smaller than 1 millimeter can be navigated through the bloodstream to seek out and destroy tumors. Some, they ponder, might also be programmed to smash through blood clots or fight infections, or made to carry drugs to specific targets that can't be reached as well now with existing tech.

The team conducted an (extremely) early stage study toward making this happen, and it's an interesting thing to picture. To conduct their test, they developed a navigation system that employs an external magnetic field to move the microrobots forward and backward, or to dig into blood clots or other barriers, all while using corkscrew-like motions. The field can also make the robots move from side to side.

Armed with this system in the lab, the scientists successfully steered a microrobot through a mock blood vessel filled with water. It doesn't sound like much, and who knows how such a system will work in animal studies or people, or what health risks microrobots might cause in terms of blockages or clots. Also, how much drug can they carry? Others are pursuing similar ideas, including researchers at Argonne National Laboratory who have tested robots between 30 and 90 microns long that carried tiny payloads.

The scientists in Korea see the idea as being useful in all kinds of places, including the central nervous system and the eye. The 56th Annual Conference on Magnetism and Magnetic Vessels highlighted their research. Further details will be published in April in the Journal of Applied Physics.

- here's the release

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