Advances in micro- and nanoscale engineering in the medical field have led to the development of various robotic designs that one day will allow a new level of minimally invasive medicine. These micro- and nanorobots will be able to reach a targeted area, provide treatments and therapies for a desired duration, measure the effects and, at the conclusion of the treatment, be removed or degrade without causing adverse effects. Ideally, all these tasks would be automated but they could also be performed under the direct supervision and control of an external user.Several approaches have been explored for the wireless actuation of microrobots. Among these, magnetic fields have been the most widely employed strategy for propulsion because they do not require special environmental properties such as conductivity or transparency (for instance: "Artificial nano swimmers", with a video that shows the controlled motions of particles in a magnetic field).
This approach allows for the precise manipulation of magnetic objects toward specific locations, and magnetic fields are biocompatible even at relatively high field strengths (MRI).In a new work, a team of researchers from ETH Zurich and Harvard University (David Mooney's lab) demonstrate that additional intelligence – including sensing and actuation – can be instantiated in these microrobots by selecting appropriate materials and methods for the fabrication process.
"Our work combines the design and fabrication of near infrared light (NIR) responsive hydrogel capsules and biocompatible magnetic microgels with a magnetic manipulation system to perform targeted drug and cell delivery tasks, Dr." Mahmut Selman Sakar, a research scientist in Bradley Nelson's Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at ETH Zurich, tells Nanowerk.Reporting their results in the November 4, 2013 online edition of Advanced Materials ("An Integrated Microrobotic Platform for On-Demand, Targeted Therapeutic Interventions"), first-authored by Sakar's co-researcher Stefano Fusco, the team fabricated an untethered, self-folding, soft microrobotic platform, in which different functionalities are integrated to achieve targeted, on-demand delivery of biological agents.