A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel has developed a micro-robot that is as small as a biological cell. It uses both electric and magnetic fields to navigate and can detect and capture a single cell. This breakthrough could lead to numerous applications.
Taking inspiration from the locomotion of biological “swimmers” such as sperm and bacteria, scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel have designed a micro-robot that measures approximately 10 microns in diameter. The micro-robot has the capability to move independently within the body, or it can be directed by an operator.
The researchers found using a magnetic field to move the micro-robot, or micro-motor, to be advantageous. This method does not require fuel, avoids direct contact with body tissues, and can function in various temperatures and solution conductivities while providing accurate steering. While electrically powered micro-motors offer selective cargo loading and transport, the ability to deform cells, they also have some drawbacks. Therefore, combining the two methods was deemed a logical choice.
Gilad Yossifon, the corresponding author of the study, stated that the micro-robots that used electrical guiding mechanisms were not efficient in environments with high electrical conductivity, such as a physiological environment. In such environments, the electric drive is less effective, and this is where the magnetic mechanism comes into play. The magnetic mechanism is highly effective regardless of the electrical conductivity of the environment, making it complementary to the electric mechanism.
After assembling the hybrid propulsion system, the researchers successfully demonstrated the capabilities of the micro-robot. They were able to identify and capture various cells, including a single red blood cell, cancer cells, and a bacterium. This showed that the micro-robot was capable of distinguishing between different types of cells, including healthy cells and those damaged by drugs or undergoing apoptosis. Once captured, the cell can be transported to an external device for further analysis.
The hybrid micro-robot’s advantage lies in its ability to capture non-labeled cells by detecting their status, as demonstrated in the first study to employ micro-robot-based sensing of label-free apoptotic cells.
According to Yossifon, the new micro-robot significantly improves the technology in two areas: hybrid propulsion and navigation through two distinct mechanisms – electric and magnetic. Moreover, the micro-robot can better detect and capture a single cell without requiring labeling, enabling local testing or transportation to an external instrument.
Although the micro-robot was tested outside the human body, the researchers are optimistic that it can be tested in vivo soon, considering its potential for broad use. According to Yossifon, the micro-robot technology has the potential to support several areas, including medical diagnosis at the single cell level, genetic editing, drug delivery, environmental clean-up, drug development, and creating a “laboratory on a particle”.
Source: Tel Aviv University