A groundbreaking discovery is emerging in the realm of medical science parallel to the rapid progress of artificial intelligence (AI). Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed innovative, intelligent materials to create the foundations for a new generation of soft medical microrobots.
These diminutive robots have immense potential to carry out a range of medical procedures like biopsies, and the transportation of cells and tissues in a substantially less invasive manner. They can effortlessly traverse through narrow and fluid-filled environments such as the human body, and safely deliver highly delicate and lightweight cargo, including cells or tissues, to specified locations.
The small soft robots, with lengths less than one centimeter, are composed of non-toxic, biocompatible advanced hydrogel composites that incorporate sustainable cellulose nanoparticles sourced from plants. The composites are smart materials, which are materials that have the ability to drastically change their properties in response to varying external conditions or stimuli.
As shared by Hamed Shahsavan, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, who also spearheaded the research, the hydrogel utilized in the construction alters its shape under the influence of external chemical stimuli. This property allows the precise orientation of cellulose nanoparticles and therefore, enables programmed shape changes - a crucial factor for the fabrication of functional soft robots.
Shahsavan further added that their unique strategy merges old and new technology. "In my research group, we are bridging the old and new,” says Shahsavan, director of the Smart Materials for Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART-Lab). “We introduce emerging microrobots by leveraging traditional soft matter like hydrogels, liquid crystals, and colloids."
The smart material used for the microrobots in this research displays a self-healing property. This property enables the creation of the robots in a variety of shapes as the material can be severed and then rejoined without the requirement of adhesives, forming different shapes for different procedures. Furthermore, the provided material can be magnetically modified to aid the movement of soft robots through the human body. To demonstrate this, a tiny robot was navigated through a maze by researchers controlling its movement with a magnetic field.
The forthcoming phase of this research is to further miniaturize the robot to submillimeter scales, thus making the robots even less invasive for future medical procedures. This venture was a collaborative effort involving Professor Tizazu Mekonnen from the Chemical Engineering Department, Associate Dean of Science (Research) Shirley Tang, and Professor Amirreza Aghakhani from the University of Stuttgart in Germany.
Disclaimer: This article has been constructed using an AI tool. For more details on the research, please visit the initial source article here.