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Medical Devices and Small Scale Robots

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Robotic pill that samples biomarkers in the gut

Researchers at the BAMM lab working in the Stanford University School of Medicine hope to fill the gap between screenings using an easy-to-use robotic pill they developed that is capable of scaling the entire GI track, capturing biomarkers which it uses to identify disease states.  Once swallowed, the pill collects information by trapping molecules or pathogens of interest in a sodium polyacrylate gel — an absorbent material. In an in vitro proof-of-concept experiment, the robotic pill was capable of collecting diverse biomarkers, including proteins and bacteria. After capture, the biomarkers are released from the gel and analyzed in a lab using standard analytical methods, including immunochemical and PCR tests.


Robotic pill that samples biomarkers in the gut

Our approach aims to address the issues encountered in cancer hypoxia by using the Volbots as on-site oxygen generating micro-factories.  Hybrid microrobots consist of both living and synthetic components. While the “living part” of the robot usually provides mobility and transport, scientists can add extra functionalities to carry out specific functions, such as the release of a drug inside the body to treat cancerous tissue. Demirci’s team designed their biohybrid microrobots using Volvox algae, which act as the engine and lend the bots their name. They can swim through the synchronized motion of thousands of hair-like projections called flagella located on their surface. Volvox also have other features, such as their innate sensing ability that enable them to migrate towards a light source and the ability to generate oxygen through photosynthesis. The Volbots were designed with magnetic nanoparticles on their outer surface that help the team guide their motion using an external magnetic field. These nanoparticles also enable detection by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and photothermal imaging, allowing the scientists to track them easily within the body. The nanoparticles on the biohybrid microrobots can also carry therapeutic agents and generate heat when exposed to near-infrared light, which can be used as photothermia-based treatments or controlled release of drugs.