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Nanorobots are electromechanical devices comprised of components that are within the nanometer size range. Within medicine, nanorobotic applications have been successfully used for a variety of microbiological, hematological, surgical and dental applications, to name a few.
What are Biomedical Nanorobots?
As compared to industrial robots that were originally developed to automate routine and dangerous tasks, biomedical robots are highly specialized and miniature devices that must be capable of performing precise tasks within the human body. Recent advancements in nanotechnology and materials science have therefore promoted the development of both micro- and nanorobots for a wide range of biomedical applications.
Whereas the traditional power sources for industrial robots that require large power supplies and/or battery storage capabilities, both micro- and nanorobots will typically depend on chemically powered motors for their energy needs. To this end, these motors acquire energy by converting locally supplied fuels, such as oxygen or glucose within the body, to propel themselves towards different cellular structures. Nanorobots can also rely on externally powered motors based on either magnetic or ultrasound technology to drive their motion.
One of the most challenges that biomedical researchers have faced during the miniaturization of robotic systems has been the optimization of nanolocomotion. Recent developments in this field have demonstrated the ability of both micro- and nanorobots to efficiently propel themselves through complex biological media or narrow blood vessels. Furthermore, once these microscopic robots have penetrated through these areas, researchers have successfully developed ways in which these devices can collect and remove tissue biopsy samples, obtain detailed images, release active agents at predetermined locations and perform localized diagnoses.
Drug delivery vehicles must be designed to have their own propelling force, ability to control navigation, accurately carry a payload, penetrate tissues and release said payload at their designated destination. To improve the capabilities of modern drug delivery carriers, both micro- and nanorobots have the potential to rapidly transport and directly deliver payloads to disease states, thereby reducing any unwanted systemic effects that drugs, such as chemotherapeutic agents, can have following administration. Recent studies have already supported the use of both micro- and nanorobots for targeted drug delivery in both in vitro and in vivo systems.
Robot-assisted surgery has allowed physicians around the world to reduce the invasiveness of common procedures while simultaneously maintaining consistently high precision, flexibility, and control throughout the surgery. While these robotic systems have dramatically extended the capabilities of human surgeons, they remain limited in their ability to reach greater depths within the human body. As a result of such limitations, micro- and nanorobots are emerged as tiny devices capable of performing precision surgery.
One way in which micro- and nanorobots have been adapted for surgical purposes is through the addition of mobile microgrippers. These tetherless microgrippers enhance the capabilities of both micro- and nanorobots to capture and retrieve tissue samples from hard-to-reach locations within the body. Researchers have further advanced this technology to allow these microgrippers to have a self-folding actuation response to a variety of external triggers including altered temperature or pH levels or enzyme stimuli.
Novel receptor-functionalized micro- and nanorobotic motors have transformed the binding and transportation capabilities of these robotic devices. By utilizing this unique sensing strategy, nanorobots have demonstrated the ability to perform precise diagnosis of disease by isolating and detecting a wide range of biological targets ranging from proteins to nucleic acids and cancer cells.
For example, recent studies have developed specialized nanorobots that can directly enter the bloodstream subcutaneously. Once fully emerged within the blood, these nanobots can verify the concentrations of blood contents and notify healthcare providers of any possible diseases. This type of technology has a unique potential for diabetic patients, as these nanorobotic devices can be used to monitor sugar levels in the blood and indicate when levels become dangerously low or high for these patients.
Recent advancements in both micro- and nanoscale robotic technology have enhanced the capabilities of these devices to perform targeted drug delivery, precise surgical procedure, medical diagnoses and even detoxify cells and tissues in real-time. Although much more research must still be done to confirm the in vivo and clinical efficacy of these devices, their impressive capabilities are quite promising.
Sources and Further Reading
- Li, J., Esteban-Fernandex de Avila, B., Gao, W., Zhang, L., & Wang, J. (2017). Micro/nanorobots for biomedicine: Delivery, surgery, sensing and detoxification. Science Robotics 2(4). DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aam6431.
- Kumar, S., Nasim, B. P., & Abraham, E. (2018). Nanorobots a Future Device for Diagnosis and Treatment. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutics. DOI: 10.15436/2377-1313.18.18.