Miniature medical robots inspired by pangolins

German scientists have developed a micro-robot inspired by pangolins that can be used for safe and minimally invasive medical treatment in the body. This tetherless soft robot may one day be able to transform into hard-to-reach areas of the body, such as the stomach or small intestine. The study was published June 20 in Nature Communications.

Magnetic soft robots and robots in solid metal form have been developed in the past for minimally invasive medical procedures, but their functionality and safety are limited. Pangolins, on the other hand, despite their scales, can move flexibly and unhindered by forming overlapping structures of hard scales.

Inspired by pangolins, Metin Sitti of the Max Planck Institute’s Institute for Intelligent Systems and colleagues designed a miniature robot measuring just 1 centimeter× 2 centimeters × 0.2 millimeters, but with overlapping scales and the ability to heat, deform and roll as needed.

In proof-of-concept experiments in the lab, the robot is able to heat up to 70°C to medically process tissues with potential future clinical applications, including hyperthermia for cancer or hemostasis in hard-to-reach areas. In addition, the robot is able to demagnetize the release of loads into tissues, which can be used for future drug delivery.

Sitti said that although further testing is needed, the technology could be a useful clinical tool for delivering therapeutic loads and hyperthermia applications. (Source: Feng Weiwei, China Science News)

Magnetically driven robot for gastric imaging Image courtesy of Sitti

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