Applying Materials Science to Nano Design: Building Mini Robots for Your Bloodstream

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Scientists have created miniature robots that can be moved through our bloodstream by an MRI. How will this change the face of medicine?
Image source: Flickr CC user liz west

It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie: miniature robots that can travel through our bloodstream and fix all manner of ailments and injuries? Nice idea, but surely it’s far outside the realm of possibility. And for a long time, that was true.

Times have changed, however. For the past few years, scientists all over the world have been developing these so-called nanobots. The potential medical applications are numerous and could revolutionize how we treat certain conditions.

Using Nanobots to Replace Existing Medical Procedures

The medical field often uses invasive techniques to treat diseases. For example, surgeons use an angioplasty to remove arterial obstructions that could lead to a heart attack and doctors perform an endoscopy to look inside the gastrointestinal system. These procedures aren’t painful, but they can be uncomfortable and pose a risk.

We traditionally think of miniature robots as modes of drug delivery, but imagine what else they can do. They can take samples and move things. There’s even evidence that they could be used to cure strokes1.

Finding Ways to Control Nanobots

One of the biggest hurdles has been finding a way to maneuver the miniature robots once inside the body. Because of their size, they obviously can’t use a motor or engine. But thanks to materials science, researchers were able to find another way.

Scientists developed microrobots that could be injected into the body but also had magnetic properties. This allows them to be pushed by magnetism. Doctors can use an MRI to visualize the robot’s location within the body and guide them through the bloodstream to the target location2.

Designing the Nanobots to Move through the Human Body

The other hurdle researchers have encountered is designing miniature robots that can move through our bloodstream. Typically, the nanobots’ properties are tested in a water. The fluids in the human body have different properties—notably that the viscosity changes depending on pressure3.

One solution involves creating a specialized structure for the nanobots. Rather than using a magnet to pull the robot through the body, the structure causes them to flap in the presence of a magnet. It’s the flapping motion that ultimately pushes the robot through the bloodstream. Another method involves using multiple robots to form a miniature coilgun to inject drugs or provide relief to injuries4.

Applying Materials Science to Creating a Better Nanobot

The key to the success of these bloodstream nanobots rests in what they’re made of. Not only do they need to be safe to inject into the human body, they also must contain magnetic properties in order to be maneuverable. Good modeling and simulation environments allow research teams to do just that but also with the following benefits:

While the medical use of nanobots are on the horizon, we’re not quite there yet. More testing needs to be done. There’s a big difference between a tank filled with water and our bloodstream. Or even between humans and animals! But I bet that sooner than we think, that science fiction premise of robots moving through our body will no longer be so fictional.

Is your materials science laboratory working on designing nanorobots or other new technologies for medical applications? Then perhaps a complete modeling and simulation environment is exactly what your firm needs to boost innovation and project efficiency. Contact us today to learn more about the features and benefits of BIOVIA Materials Studio.

  1. “Cell-sized micro-robot will carry drugs in your bloodstream,” September 17, 2013, http://www.geek.com/science/cell-sized-micro-robot-will-carry-drugs-in-your-bloodstream-1570919/
  2. “Magnetically-guided robots could maneuver through bloodstream,” January 17, 2012, http://www.usnews.com/science/articles/2012/01/17/magnetically-guided-robots-could-manuever-through-bloodstream
  3. “Tiny Robotic Swimmers Could Travel Through Bloodstream to Deliver Drugs,” November 6, 2014, http://www.roboticstrends.com/article/tiny_robotic_swimmers_could_travel_through_bloodstream_to_deliver_drugs/
  4. “These mini robots could form an injection gun in your bloodstream,” June 26, 2015, http://www.popsci.com/tiny-self-assembling-magnetic-robot-gun-inside-body

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