Scientists have developed robots modeled after human sperm that may have many potential ways in which to be used for medical treatments. Dubbed MagnetoSperm, the robots were developed by teams of researchers in both the German University in Cairo, Egypt, and the University of Twente in the Netherlands. The scientists use fluctuating delicate magnetic fields to constrain and control the nano-sized robots. The experts say that the new technology may be useful in such areas as in vitro fertilization, drug delivery and other microscopic applications.
The robots are a mere 322 microns long, and are made up of a head that is coated with a thick layer of nickel-cobalt and a polymer tail that has no coating. This sperm-like appearance makes them perfect to be used in microscopic medical treatments. When the micro-robot is manipulated by a fluctuating magnetic field of less than that of a fridge magnet, below five milliteslas, it undertakes a magnetic force on the top of its body, the head, which then causes the lash-like appendage called the flagellum to undulate and move forward like a propeller. Scientists are then able to maneuver the robots towards a point of reference using the magnetic fields.
Due to their magnetic heads, the robots can align themselves along a weak magnetic field, generating thrust along their malleable bodies as they wriggle forward at a maximum speed of 160 micro-meters a second. The robots are controlled by the researchers using weak magnetic fields, and can be steered to such places as capillaries and arteries. The scientists claim that the sperm-modeled robots have diverse applications in many different medical treatments. These include the cleaning of clogged arteries, targeted drug delivery, cell sorting and in vitro fertilization. The scientists also state that there could be many more opportunities for use of MagnetoSperm in the medical field.
The only disadvantage to the system now is the merging of the micro-tube and the sperm-modeled robots while they are being used in medical treatments. To counteract this problem, the researchers plan to shrink the size of the already tiny robots even more. They are also hoping to equip the micro-bots with nano-sized fibers that would serve as the robots’ flagella, reducing the size further. As well, the scientists are working hard to amalgamate drug hauls for the mini-sized robots, allowing them to get close to diseased cells before releasing their payload. Researchers are hoping that this new technology method will reduce the negative side effects of conventional drug therapy.
Although electromagnetic and magnetic micro-robots have been an area of great scrutiny in the past, the bots’ inability to travel far has held the use of this type of research at bay. With the realization of how live micro-organisms work, such as sperm cells and bacteria, the scientists built robots and modeled them after sperm to be used in various medical treatments: for instance, targeted therapy or micro-manipulation, on a complex scale. They state that their robots are influenced directly from nature because the natural world has designed the most efficient ways for locomotion at the microscopic level. Another benefit of the MagnetoSperm is that it can also be used to assemble and manipulate objects on microscopic and nano scales, while being controlled externally by a professional with minimal, if any, risk to the patient.
Opinion by Korrey Laderoute