Researchers found a way to send tiny robots into the brains of mice

Generations of laboratory mice like these recently became hosts to swarms of microscopic robots.

Generations of laboratory mice like these recently became hosts to swarms of microscopic robots.
Photo: fake images (fake images)

In a mind-blowing development, a team of researchers in China has managed to treat brain tumors in mice by delivering drugs to tissues using microscopic robots. The robots jumped from the mice’s bloodstream to their brains by being covered in E. coli, which tricked the rodents’ immune systems into attacking them, absorbing the robots and cancer-fighting drugs in the process.

The team’s investigation was published today in Science Robotics magazine. It comes immediately after previous investigation by members of the same team, who saw liquid-coated nanorobots propelled remotely through the gelatinous fluid of the eye. In addition to being an obvious recipe for an episode of “The Magic School Bus,” the research had obvious applications for ophthalmic research and medical treatments.

“It’s not just the blood-brain barrier,” lead author Zhiguang Wu, a chemist at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, said in an email. “Most of the barriers in dense tissues are difficult obstacles to overcome when moving micro-robots around a body.”

The ships are magnetic and the researchers use a rotating magnetic field to move them remotely. In microscales, we are talking about incremental movements around 1% of the width of a hair, the researchchers were able to make the hybrid bio-bots we follow paths like in the video game Snake. They are called “neutrobots” because They infiltrate the brain in the casing of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell.

“The biggest challenge of the work was how to achieve neutrobot swarm intelligence,” Wu said. “Like robot swarms in the macroscale world, micro / nanorobot swarms allow for sophisticated manipulation to perform complex tasks.”

In the end, it took Wu’s team eight years to upgrade swarms of microscopic robots capable of bridging the gap between the rodents’ bloodstream in the animal’s tail, where the robots were injected, and its brain, where gliomas resided ( tumors emerging from glial cells in the brain). . Part of the problem is that the white blood cells of the mice did not taste the taste of the magnetic robots. To overcome that problem, Wu’s team covered the bots with chunks of E. coli membrane, which is easily recognized by white blood cells as an unwanted invader. That made the robots much more enjoyable and the white blood cells engulfed them. From inside those cells, the robots were able to roll the cells into the brain; a Trojan horse for the 21st century (in this case, one that benefits the residents of Troy). The neutrobots reached the brain and were able to deliver the drug directly to the target tumors.

Wu said the applications for the robots are manifold and there could be more advancements on the horizon. “Neutrobots are not designed exclusively for the treatment of glioma,” he said, explaining that they are “a platform for the active delivery of therapy for various brain diseases such as cerebral thrombosis, stroke and epilepsy.”

A neutrobot located against a glioma tumor in the brain of a mouse.

A neutrobot located against a glioma tumor in the brain of a mouse.
Picture: Zhang et al., Sci Robot. 6, eaaz9519 (2021)

Whether it’s surgery or drug administration, robots are slowly but surely making their way into our most personal domain. Of course, they are still in the brain of mice for now, but future applications in humans seem more and more likely.

“The use of neutrophils in microrobot design is a fascinating strategy to overcome biological barriers,“Wrote robotic engineers Junsun Hwang and Hongsoo Choi, who were not affiliated with the new work, in a Article. “However, bank-to-bed translation regarding neutrobot- or microrobot-directed drug delivery is still a long way off.”

Currently, experts lack the ability to clearly see what the robots are doing in real time, which would be vital for any future medical use of the droids. But in the rat race of robotic research, it is clear that humans are pushing their inanimate swarms in the direction of progress.


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