It’s science-fiction-turned-reality: Researchers are developing micro- and nanoscale robots that move freely in the body, communicate with each other, perform jobs, and degrade when their mission is complete. These tiny robots will someday “have a major impact” on disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, according to a new review in Science Robotics from a top nanoengineering team at the University of California, San Diego.
The review highlights four areas of medicine where tiny robots have been successfully used in proof-of-concept studies: targeted delivery, precision surgery, sensing of biological targets, and detoxification. Of those, “active drug delivery is primarily the most promising commercial application of medical microrobots,” said paper co-author Joseph Wang, chair of nanoengineering at UCSD, in an email to IEEE Spectrum. In December, for example, researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland showed that a wire-shaped nanorobot could be wirelessly steered toward a location and then triggered by a magnetic field to release drugs to kill cancer cells.