Fantastic Voyage: Microbots Flip Through Live Colon

Remember that 1966 film FANTASTIC VOYAGE, about a ship of medics that is shrunk down to travel through a human body? Well, we may not be ready to shrink people yet, but mechanical engineers at Purdue University have managed to get microrobot to do flips in a live colon, bringing us one step closer to the Fantastic Voyage style of medical treatment.

The rectangular robots are minuscule—just the width of a few human hairs. But they’re capable of some cool gymnastics, flipping end over end and sideways as they’re maneuvered by a magnetic field controlled by the engineers.

You can see the tiny tech doing their acrobatics in this video made by the scientists at Purdue University.

According to the engineering team, they chose to perform their technology test in the colon because it’s a part of the body that is easy to access, and provides a practical view of how well the microbots could perform inside the body. “In the colon, you have all these fluids and materials that are following along the path, but the robot is moving in the opposite direction. It’s just not an easy voyage,” Luis Solorio, an assistant professor in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, told TechXplore about the process.

The microrobot can be seen just to the right of the “U” in United States on this U.S. penny. (Purdue University image/Georges Adam)
The microrobot can be seen just to the right of the “U” in United States on this U.S. penny.
(Photo Credit: Purdue University image/Georges Adam)

This type of medicine delivery is especially promising, because it allows doctors to directly treat targeted areas of the body, without the need to send medicine through the entire bodily system. By applying treatments straight to the area in need, doctors can potentially help patients avoid side effects that result from releasing medicines into the bloodstream.

“From a diagnostic perspective, these microrobots might prevent the need for minimally invasive colonoscopies by helping to collect tissue. Or they could deliver payloads without having to do the prep work that’s needed for traditional colonoscopies,” said Craig Goergen, Purdue’s Leslie A. Geddes Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

Learn more by checking out the article on Purdue University’s website.

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