APR 07, 2023 5:00 AM PDT

New Cell-Sized Micro-Robot Can Identify and Capture Other Cells

How small can robots get, and can they assist in human body needs? This is what a team of researchers led by the University of Tel-Aviv hope to better understand as they examined the development of a cell-sized micro-robot capable of identifying and capturing other cells while being controlled and navigated using electric and magnetic mechanisms. They discovered this new micro-robot can perform a variety of tasks, including navigating between cells within a biological sample, determining if the cell is healthy or dying, and even capture and inject a drug or genetic material into the captured cell, as well.

Computer simulation of a hybrid micro-robot. (Credit: Courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

Research team of Dr. Yossifon. (Credit: Courtesy of Tel Aviv University) 

Dr. Gilad Yossifon, who is a professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tel Aviv University and a co-author on the study noted that “developing the micro-robot’s ability to move autonomously was inspired by biological micro-swimmers, such as bacteria and sperm cells. This is an innovative area of research that is developing rapidly, with a wide variety of uses in fields such as medicine and the environment, as well as a research tool”.

As part of the study, the researchers used the micro-robot on single blood and cancer cells and a single bacterium to demonstrate its abilities. In the end, the micro-robot was able to differentiate between each type of cell and even identify unlabeled cells while being able to determine its health status, as well.

"Our new development significantly advances the technology in two main aspects: hybrid propulsion and navigation by two different mechanisms - electric and magnetic,” said Dr. Yossifon. “In addition, the micro-robot has 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 for in-vitro assays, but the intention is to develop in the future micro-robots that will also work inside the body - for example, as effective drug carriers that can be precisely guided to the target”.

This study builds off previous research into micro-robots and points out that were constructed around electrical guiding mechanisms that proved ineffective in the vicinity of high electrical conductivity like physiological environments, which is how the magnetic mechanisms of this new micro-robot make it function so well in these tiny environments.

"In our research we developed an innovative micro-robot with important capabilities that significantly contribute to the field: hybrid propulsion and navigation through a combination of electric and magnetic fields, as well as the ability to identify, capture, and transport a single cell from place to place in a physiological environment,” said Dr. Yossifon. “These capabilities are relevant for a wide variety of applications as well as for research. Among other things, the technology will 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 creating a 'laboratory on a particle' - a microscopic laboratory designed to carry out diagnostics in places accessible only to micro-particles”.

What advancements will researchers make with micro-robots in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

Sources: Advanced Science, EurekAlert!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of "Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey".
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