This tiny robot can swim in your bloodstream and conduct cell analysis

This new hybrid micro-robot is only 10 microns across — equivalent to the size of a single cell. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
Representative image
Representative image


In a major medical development, scientists have created a hybrid micro-robot that is only 10 microns wide — equivalent to the size of a single human cell. 

Researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel have created this tiny robot to accelerate biological cell research. This micro-robot was inspired by biological swimmers such as bacteria and sperm, and it can easily move around the human body.

“Developing the micro-robot’s ability to move autonomously was inspired by biological micro-swimmers, such as bacteria and sperm cells. This is an innovative area of research that is developing rapidly, with a wide variety of uses in fields such as medicine and the environment, as well as a research tool,” said Prof Gilad Yossifon in a statement

What all this tiny robot can do

These micro-robots are composed of tiny synthetic particles. They can carry out tasks autonomously or under the supervision of an operator. Electric and magnetic mechanisms can be used to control navigation, noted the press release.

Based on this unique ability, the robot can easily perform a wide range of tasks, such as navigating through the cell sample, differentiating between cell types, and determining if a cell is healthy or damaged. 

Additionally, the micro-robot is programmed to transport a specific cell for further genetic analysis or other examination. It can also “transfect a drug and/or gene into the captured targeted single cell,” which could be significantly beneficial in creating a targeted treatment for various diseases, like cancer.

The team demonstrated the robot's capabilities by successfully capturing single blood, cancer cells, and a bacterium. The tiny robot was able to tell the difference between deadly and damaged cells. The statement emphasizes that it could be extremely beneficial in the development of anti-cancer drugs.

Thanks to this advancement, scientists can now easily conduct single-cell analysis, which was a hurdle in medical science. Besides, the innovation could also be used in medical diagnosis, drug transport and screening, as well as surgical procedures.

"In addition, the micro-robot has an improved ability to identify and capture a single cell, without the need for tagging, for local testing or retrieval and transport to an external instrument. This research was carried out on biological samples in the laboratory for in-vitro assays, but the intention is to develop in the future micro-robots that will also work inside the body - for example, as effective drug carriers that can be precisely guided to the target,” explains Prof. Yossifon. 

Following this demonstration, the team is now working to put it to the test in vivo, with the hope that it will soon be used in a variety of medical research.

The details about this tiny robot have been published in the journal Advanced Science.

Study abstract:

Electrically powered micro- and nanomotors are promising tools for in vitro single-cell analysis. In particular, single cells can be trapped, transported, and electroporated by a Janus particle (JP) using an externally applied electric field. However, while dielectrophoretic (DEP)-based cargo manipulation can be achieved at high-solution conductivity, electrical propulsion of these micromotors becomes ineffective at solution conductivities exceeding ≈0.3 mS cm−1. Here, JP cargo manipulation and transport capabilities to conductive near-physiological (<6 mS cm−1) solutions are extended successfully by combining magnetic field-based micromotor propulsion and navigation with DEP-based manipulation of various synthetic and biological cargos. Combination of a rotating magnetic field and electric field results in enhanced micromotor mobility and steering control through tuning of the electric field frequency. In addition, the micromotor's ability of identifying apoptotic cell among viable and necrotic cells based on their dielectrophoretic difference is demonstrated, thus, enabling to analyze the apoptotic status in the single-cell samples for drug discovery, cell therapeutics, and immunotherapy. The ability to trap and transport live cells towards regions containing doxorubicin-loaded liposomes is also demonstrated. This hybrid micromotor approach for label-free trapping, transporting, and sensing of selected cells within conductive solutions opens new opportunities in drug delivery and single-cell analysis, where close-to-physiological media conditions are necessary.

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