A Tiny, Whip-Tailed Robot Can Administer Meds Anywhere In the Body
Sometimes the best advances in technology are those that mimic Mother Nature. An example of said awesomeness is a new, microscopic gadget called MagnetoSperm.
OK, OK, it has a funny name. But we assure you that its purpose is legit. It’s a sperm-shaped cyborg that’s controlled by magnets.
The nano device is designed to wiggle and shimmy its way into the harder-to-reach spaces of the body for some cool reasons: to deliver medicine and, eventually, its makers hope, clear blocked arteries, sort cells, improve in vitro fertilization and more.
Pretty ambitious for a plastic microbot measuring only 322 microns in length. It’s just six times longer than its biological counterpart, specifically of the human kind.
Here’s a closer look:
The spermbot -- developed by researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and German University in Cairo, Egypt -- swims and squirms quite like the real thing. Its magnetic nickel-cobalt coated oval head and oscillating flexible flagellum allows it to be steered to its target by something that might surprise you: a quartet of alternating electromagnetic coils that are as weak as the cheesy souvenir variety you’d find on most refrigerators. Hey, whatever works.
Scientists hope to make MagnetoSperm even smaller and lighter by replacing its tail with high-performance magnetic nanofibers. The tinier the nanobot gets, the tinier the places and spaces it should be able to reach and get to work in, like blood vessels and other tricky to navigate parts. The idea is to one day employ the device in ways that make invasive surgeries free of trauma and scarring.
We wonder how this smart swimmer will enter the body in the first place. By injection? By swallowable pill? Once it’s inside, will doctors hover the magnetic coils over the patient to drag MagnetoSperm where it needs to go, like coaxing metal shaving “hair” onto the bald head of a goofy old Wooly Willy toy? Will MagnetoSperm dissolve to release medicine?
Whatever the method, this tech is worth keeping an eye (and a microscope) on.
Kim Lachance Shandrow is the former West Coast editor at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was a commerce columnist at Los Angeles CityBeat, a news producer at MSNBC and KNBC in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for Government Technology magazine, LA Yoga magazine, the Lowell Sun newspaper, HealthCentral.com, PsychCentral.com and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Coop. Follow her on Twitter at @Lashandrow. You can also follow her on Facebook here.