Comprehensive coverage

The tiny robot that is able to navigate a physiological environment and capture damaged cells

Meet the hybrid microrobot: innovative technology tiny at 10 microns (the size of a biological cell)

Nano robots treat a cancer cell. Illustration: shutterstock
Nano robots treat a cancer cell. Illustration: shutterstock

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a hybrid micro-robot the size of a single biological cell (about 10 microns), which can be controlled and navigated using two different mechanisms - electric and magnetic. The micro-robot is able to navigate between the different cells in a biological sample, distinguish between different types of cells and even identify whether it is a healthy cell or a dying cell, then load it with the desired cell and carry it for further analysis, introducing a drug or gene or isolating it for genetic sequencing. According to the researchers, the development may help promote research in the important field of 'single cell analysis', as well as in medical diagnosis, drug transport, surgery and environmental protection.

The innovative technology was developed under the leadership of Prof. Gilad Yousiphon from the School of Mechanical Engineering וfrom the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tel Aviv University, with the participation of the postdoctoral fellow Dr. Yue Wu from Tel Aviv University, as well as the student Sion Yaakov and the postdoctoral student Dr. Afu Fu from the Technion. The article was published in the journal Advanced Science.

Inspired by biological micro-swimmers

Prof. Gilad Youssiphon explains that micro-robots are tiny synthetic particles the size of a biological cell, which can move from place to place and perform various actions (for example: efficient collection of synthetic or biological cargo) autonomously according to prior planning, or through external control by an operator or to a place control system. According to him, the self-motion capability of the micro-robots (sometimes also called micro-motors and active particles), was engineered inspired by biological micro-swimmers, such as bacteria and sperm cells. This is an innovative field that is developing rapidly, with a wide variety of uses in fields such as medicine and the environment, and also as a research tool.

"The intention in the future is to develop micro-robots that will also work inside the body - for example as effective drug carriers that can be precisely guided to the target."

As part of the innovative development, the researchers used a microrobot to capture a blood cell, a cancer cell or a single bacterium, and showed that it is able to distinguish between cells with different levels of vitality - a healthy cell, a cell damaged by a drug, or a cell that is dying or dying in a 'suicide' process Natural (such a distinction may be significant, for example, when developing anti-cancer drugs).

Also, after identifying the desired cell, the micro-robot was also able to capture it and lead it to further treatment and diagnosis of the damage to the cell. Another important innovation in the technology is the identification of the target cell without the need to label it: the micro-robot identifies the type of cell and its condition (such as animal level) using a built-in sensing mechanism based on the cell's unique electrical properties.

Prof. Yospon: "Our new development adds an important layer to this technology, in two main aspects: hybrid propulsion and navigation by two different mechanisms - electric and magnetic, along with an improved ability to identify and capture a single cell without the need for tagging, for local testing or retrieval and transport to an external instrument. This research was carried out on biological samples in the laboratory, but the intention in the future is to develop micro-robots that will also work inside the body - for example as effective drug carriers that can be precisely guided to the target."

The researchers explain that the hybrid propulsion mechanism of the microrobot is of particular importance in physiological environments, such as liquid biopsy. "The micro-robots that have operated until now based on an electrical mechanism, were not effective in certain environments characterized by relatively high electrical conductivity, such as a physiological environment, where the electrical propulsion is less effective. This is where the complementary magnetic mechanism can come into play, which is very effective regardless of electrical conduction."

Prof. Yousiphon concludes: "In our research, we developed an innovative micro-robot, with important capabilities that add a significant layer to the field: hybrid propulsion and navigation through a combination of an electric and magnetic field, as well as the ability to identify, capture, and transport a single cell from place to place in a physiological environment. These capabilities are of great significance for a wide variety of applications and also for research. Among other things, the technology may support the following areas: medical diagnosis at the single cell level, introducing drugs or genes into cells, genetic editing, carrying drugs to their destination inside the body, cleaning the environment from polluting particles, drug development, and 'lab on a particle' technology designed to carry out diagnostics in places accessible only to the micro -particles.”

More of the topic in Hayadan: