The technology of 3D printers and rapid prototyping are being widely used in all sorts of industries nowadays because of its easiness and adaptability. One sector that rapid prototyping has taken over drastically is the medical sector, from prosthetics to implants, 3D printers have achieved quite a lot.
Recently Professor Samuel Sia of biomedical engineering at Columbia University New York has come up with a “biobot” that was made through rapid prototyping. This device can be implanted inside the human body to release measured doses of drugs and this tiny biobot can be controlled by the user from outside the body using magnets.
The number of cancer patients has increased over recent years, and for the most of them, treatment options are limited, and eventually these patients have to turn to chemotherapy in order to survive longer. Even though chemotherapy is a very powerful option and does help with cancer, it destroys the body internally and externally in numerous ways. Patients suffer from chronic pain, hair loss, nausea and fatigue, and some even end up with infertility.
Given these adverse effects scientists are working on new ways to release the chemotherapy drug inside the body without the side effects and using 3D printers is one of them. This method involves manufacturing spongy micro machines that will deliver the drug inside the body.
The developer of the “biobot” Samuel Sia and his team at Columbia University have published all their discoveries in the website Science Robotics, explaining how they came up with a manufacturing method that can make features in biocompatible materials that can be as small as tens of micrometers. These scientists have come up with tiny machines that can dispose drugs in the body via magnetic signals.
With the goal of manufacturing something micro that will deliver drugs inside the body, the team of biomedical engineers of Columbia first needed a way of making this special machine. To create this machine the team looked to 3D printers and developed a machine that can dispose layers upon layers of the hydrogel to eventually form a solid and rubbery shape.
After that as imposed the challenge of making the tiny devices. For this particular part, the team could put to use an already tested mechanism, clockwork in order to operate their devices. Remarkably the hydrogel micro machines work just like timepieces where each rubbery device is a sort of Geneva Drive, a gear that can rotate and clicks forward if a magnet is directed towards it. The “gear” here is nothing more than a rubbery component that contains iron nanoparticles. With each clicks one chamber out of the six lines up with the hole and disposes the medicine.
Making these biobots with rapid prototyping posed a challenge for Sia’s research team for many reasons. First of all, these micro robots needed to be soft and flexible enough to be able to survive within the human body. At the same time, they also had to be sturdy enough to be able to withstand the roughness and movement inside the body. According to Sia, if the material is too flexible and collapses like jelly, machines cannot be made out of it. Hence it has to be sturdy enough to pose as a machine.
With such small devices, doctors can in the future deliver chemotherapy drug treatments much more precisely that can potentially reduce the adverse effects of the otherwise powerful drugs. These biobots can also be used to regulate hormones or perform similar tasks inside the human body. Sia’s team has already put this mechanism to use on mice to test it out, and it has shown a success so far.
Sia’s research team implanted these micro robots into a handful of mice that have bone cancer.
The biobots then released precise doses of chemotherapy drugs through the devices using rapid prototyping. Concurrently, another handful of mice with the same disease were given drugs the traditional way to compare. Results showed that the mice who had been given treatments using the biobots had less damage to their healthy cells, their tumors grew slower than before and more tumor cells died off sooner in comparison to the other test group.
Therefore, these squishy rapid prototyped devices present a huge opportunity for medical professionals and doctors out there, and can potentially become the new way of delivering drugs to the body in critical conditions. However, before all that Sia and his team needs to come up with a finer way to control the device from outside the body. Even though the magnetic system works well in the laboratory, it is still possible that powerful magnets from different sources around the body might be able to accidently trigger the biobots and release the drug unintentionally with the wrong doses.
For the time being, other ways are being developed by Sia and his team to put these micro-robots to medical use.
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