One day when we want to deliver drugs to a particular part of the body, we won’t use pills or injections. We’ll use robot “microswimmers” that travel around the bloodstream and identify the point of attack. It’ll be like the 1960s film Fantastic Voyage, except we won’t miniaturize any submarines or humans; the device will be unmanned and controlled from the outside.
Take a look at the videos here. They show chains of iron oxide beads linked together and powered by external magnetic fields. Shaped like corkscrews (as several bloodstream nanobots are), they’re designed to open up clogged arteries and to deliver anti-coagulant drugs.
The little beasts were developed by Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, along with 10 other institutions around the world, including Drexel University in Philadelphia. “The microswimmers are composed of inorganic biodegradable beads so they will not trigger an immune response in the body. And we can adjust their size and surface properties to accurately deal with any type of arterial occlusion,” says MinJun Kim, a bioengineering professor at Drexel.
Kim says in a press release that the swimmers were inspired by Borrelia burgdorferi, the spiral-shaped bacteria that causes Lyme’s Disease. Eventually, as a research paper explains, the aim is to replace traditional artery clearing techniques like stenting and angioplasty. “Current treatments for chronic total occlusion are only about 60% successful,” Kim says. “We believe that the method we are developing could be as high as 80% to 90% successful and possibly shorten recovery time.”
The researchers behind the technology recently published their findings in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research. Lab testing is expected to last at least four years. Other micro-swimming possibilities include cage-like designs and this scallop-like thing that flaps to move along.
The promise of bodily micro-machines is to avoid the indiscriminate use of drugs across the whole body, though it may be a few years before the critters are ready for actual clinical situations.