Friday, October 24, 2014

MIT Physicists Are Designing Microscopic Robots to Walk Inside Our Bodies

 

Bacteria are badass navigators. They swim away from toxins and pinpoint nutrients with an innate sense of direction, guided by subtle chemical queues. If we could capture that homing action in the laboratory, physicians might be able to deploy microscopic machines to deliver drugs to specific locations, or scan the entire body for rogue tumors.

But that’s the future. This week, physicists at MIT took the first baby steps—or tumbles—toward creating machines that mimic bacteria in motion. Ina study published in the journal Physics Review Letters, researchers paired two microscopic, magnetic beads on an artificial surface. They observed as the beads tumbled or “walked” from areas of low friction to areas of high friction.


Artificial micro walkers tumble away from areas of low-friction (blue), toward high-friction areas (red). Image: Juan Aragones, Josh Steimel, and Alfredo Alexander-Katz.

That might not sound terribly exciting, unless you really, really love watching things tumble. But for biologists, high-friction areas mean cell surface receptors—where communication happens and, incidentally, where lots of drugs need to go. The idea is that, in the future, doctors might inject MIT’s microscopic machines into a patient, and then let the little bots tumble toward receptor-rich areas, with life-saving medications in tow.

“We can make this thing walk and find regions where certain receptors are being expressed,” says Alfredo Alexander-Katz, a biophysicist at MIT and lead author on the study. “It could deliver drugs.”

For the rest of the story: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/mit-physicists-want-robotic-micro-walkers-to-tumble-through-your-body

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