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Researchers develop mass production technology for biodegradable microrobots

New technology expected to contribute to enhancing efficacy of regenerative medicine

Biodegradable microrobots (right) react to external magnetic pull. (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology)
Biodegradable microrobots (right) react to external magnetic pull. (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology)
Scientists have developed a new technology to allow mass production of biodegradable microrobots that are likely to contribute to improving the efficacy of regenerative medicine such as stem cell therapy, Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology said Tuesday.

A joint research team composed of scientists at DGIST, Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital of The Catholic University of Korea and Swiss public university ETH Zurich came up with a method to produce over 100 biodegradable microrobots per minute, about 10,000 times faster than the existing technology of manufacturing medical microrobots.

The researchers applied the technology of magnetic nanoparticles inside the new microbots so that their movements in the human body can be controlled by using magnetic pulls.

The research demonstrated that the microrobots bearing stem cells on the surface moved to desired positions in a micro maze by controlling the external magnetic field. DGIST pointed out that the new technology is a significant improvement as the existing stem cell therapies have difficulties in selectively delivering cells to certain spots.

The researchers said that the biodegrable microrobots attached with stem cells were completely decomposed six hours after they were cultured with decomposition enzymes. The nanoparticles inside the microrobots were retrieved by the magnetic control system afterwards.

The stem cells underwent cell differentiation to become neural cells after approximately 21 days had passed, confirming that the new microrobots can serve the role of a target precision treatment for stem cell therapy.

The research team also verified that the stem cells delivered by the microrobots normally exhibited electrical and physiological characteristics by using hippocampus nerve cells extracted from mice. They placed the cells on the surface of the microrobots and found that the cells began emitting electrical signals 28 days after the cell culture.

“We expect that the technologies developed through this study, such as mass production of micro-robot, precision driving by electromagnetic fields, stem cell transfer and differentiation, will dramatically increase the efficacy of target precision therapy in the future,” said Choi Hong-soo, the study’s lead author and robotics professor at DGIST.

The study, published in internationally-recognized science journal Small in June, was funded by the National Science Challenges Support and Network, the National Research Foundation of Korea and the Ministry of Science and ICT.

By Kan Hyeong-woo (hwkan@heraldcorp.com)
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