Prototype soft robots used to deliver drugs to the nervous system

August 12, 2021
Prototype soft robots

Targeted drug delivery using tiny, tumbling soft robots can be achieved soon thanks to rotating magnetic fields. In a study carried out by several US research institutes and biotechnology companies, tiny robots were observed to perform better as drug delivery vehicles to neural tissue: when controlled using a magnetic field, specially developed MANiAC (magnetically aligned nanorods in alginate capsules) microbots moved with improved efficacy and even reduced the occurrence of side effects from off-target dosing.

As explained by Lamar Mair of Weinberg Medical Physics, a medical device company in the US, diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) are hard to treat. However, the MANiAC microbots can navigate the complex architecture of the CNS – they can move against fluid flow, climb slopes, and move about neural tissues, such as the spinal cord, and deposit their drug payload at precise locations.

Read also: US scientists discover the nervous system’s role in extending life

[Controlling the microbots using magnetic fields is a particularly promising method of drug delivery as they are not influenced by tissues and tend to be very safe.]

The research team behind MANiAC explained that each “millimeter-scale” microbot consists of a cluster of aligned magnetic nickel nanorods, encased within a soft spherical alginate shell. When subjected to a rotating magnetic field – which could be generated by an electromagnet located outside the patient’s body – the microbot tumbles/rolls in the direction of the rotation – by slowly moving the electromagnet, it’s possible to guide the MANiAC from one place to another.

In lab tests, the microbots were able to climb steep slopes and move upstream against a fluid flow similar to what they would experience in the CNS. The researchers were also able to manoeuvre and deposit dye-loaded MANiACs around the surface of rodent neural tissue with a fine degree of control.

“These results are very preliminary and highly experimental, but we think we have demonstrated strong evidence that small, soft, capsule-based microrobots have potential for controlled local delivery in neural diseases,” said Professor David Cappelleri, of Indiana’s Purdue University.

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Category: Education, Features

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