Sunday, April 09, 2006

Microbots: Micro Life-savers.

Microbots: Micro Life-savers.


Rapid advancement in nanotechnology has now allowed the production of smaller and smaller robots. Prototypes of robots, which measure only a few micrometers across, are already being made, and it is only a method of time before, it would be mass-produced. Kazushi Ishiyama, from the Tohoku University, has developed one such microbot, which is small enough to be injected into the patient, using standard hypodermic needles. There are two main applications of this microbot, drug delivery and destroying cancerous cells.

Kazushi Ishiyama

Drug delivery:

The main drawback of conventional drug delivery methods is the difficulty in delivering the exact dosage of drugs to the precise target. The digestive system of the patient breaks down a large portion of the drug, before it could reach its intended target. One method of bypassing this problem is to take larger doses of medications. However, overdosing usually carries harmful side-effects and might even be lethal. Although injections do not have this problem, they are expensive and are difficult to self-administer. Microbots provide an elegant solution to this problem.

A microbot could be injected directly into the bloodstream of the patient, where it can be used to deliver required level of medications directly to malignant cells (where it is needed) at regular intervals. Thus there is no longer any problem of taking in too large or too small of a dose of medications, and there is no longer any need for a trained medical professional to be around, each time the patient requires a dose of medication.

Destroying cancerous cells

The conventional method of cancer treatment involves zapping cancerous cells with radiotherapy. While it is effective in eliminating the cancerous cells, the healthy cells around cancerous cells are often killed in the process, thereby weakening the immune system of the patient. However, microbot can be used to eliminate the cancerous cells, without harming the healthy cells around them. Kazushi Ishiyama’s microbot prototype is a rotating magnetized screw, which can be used to as a form of cancer treatment. The microbot is first injected into the patient, where it will burrow straight into the cancerous cells and unleash a hot metal spike to destroy them.

Technology behind the Microbot

The microbot is based of cylindrical magnets and is shaped like a small screw. The microbot is controlled by applying a three-dimensional electro-magnetic field, which will control the spin and direction of the microbot. Due to its small size, the microbot does not carry with it its own power unit, instead it is powered by the electro-magnetic field. By varying the pulses of the magnetic field, the temperature of the microbot could be increased, such that it is hot enough to burn away cancerous tissue. The microbot is strong enough to burrow through a 2cm thick steak in just 20 seconds.


While the microbot is small in size, it might still be fatal if it accidentally blocks a blood vessel. Thus doctors are still apprehensive about testing the prototype on humans. Because lives are at stake, medical robotics usually requires an exceptionally stable control system. Thus there is a need to have a stable control system, such that the microbot will almost never stray into blood vessels. Another solution would be to further reduce the size of the microbot, until the extent that it will not block a blood vessel even if it accidentally strays into one.

Given enough time, I am sure that these problems would be overcome and we will see microbots being used to save countless lives.



Medical said...

u0204610 Andy Tan

This will definitely be a good news as it offers another alternative for cancer treatment.Im just curious whether these robots will have any "intelligence" on them to enable them to identify the correct cells to target or does it have to depend on human guidance to identify the cancer cells...

Security said...

u0204635 Tan Pei-En

A possible conversation topic in future:

"I just went to the doctor. Got flu."

"Oh I see. How many robots did he give you?"

"Oh he injected 2. Both to combat the virus."

Silly as it sounds, could this not be something that transpires in the near future?

Indigestion? Insert some digestive robots to help break down the food.

I think that concerns such as safety and the level of intelligence of the robot are legitimate, but I think it is just a matter of time before we are technologically advanced enough to address such issues properly.

On a different note, how would a patient feel with robots running all around his inner vessels? Strange, I suppose, but a small price to pay if you have some terminal disease.

It is definitely exciting if one day cancer cells can be recognised and destroyed by such microbots. It is a shift in paradigm from looking for traditional cures.

Practical concerns such as the cost of producing such robots will go down once they are accepted by the masses. Kudos to the guys who are working on such beneficial technology.

Medical said...

U0205119 Ek Li Ling
This possibilties described in this post almost seem too good to be true. I'm sure the mircobots are still under development stages, and as mentioned, I guess one of the biggest problems in its advancement will be the testing of this device on human beings. The behaviour of robots is still pretty unpredictable and it would be disastrous if this robot malfunctions when it has been introduced in a patient. However, I still look forward to a day where such robots can help cancer patients.

Home said...

U0205077 Mu Jun

I am very curious of how these micro robots are able to find the target of the dosage in the human bloodstream. Are they able to navigate around and also able to stay at some place? How to get the robots out of the body? I think for drug delivery, these micro robots may not be good choices. However, the application of destroying cancerous cells sounds promising as long as the magnetic field used is not harmful and the robots can be easily taken out after destroying all the cancerous cells.

Exploration said...

Hoo We Tak u037972h

The field is rather challenging since the perception system embedded on the robot is rather limited due to the size constrain. As new energy system is invented, the robot could operate in the actual environment longer.