These Sperm-Inspired Brobots Have Been Created To Do Drug Runs

MagnetoSperm performs a flagellated swim using weak oscillating magnetic fields. Image: I.S.M. Khalil/GUC & S. Misra/University of Twente

Microrobots which swim like sperm and are controlled by oscillating magnetic fields have been created by scientists to be used in drug delivery to parts of the body.

Researchers at the University of Twente (Netherlands) and German University in Cairo (Egypt) developed the 322 micron-long robots consist solely of a head coated in a thick cobalt-nickel layer and an uncoated tail.

When the robot is subjected to an oscillating field about the strength of a decorative refrigerator magnet it experiences a magnetic torque on its head, which causes it to oscillate and propel it forward.

The researchers are then able to steer the robot by directing the magnetic field lines towards a reference point.

The breakthrough is described in a cover article in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

Islam Khalil designed the MagnetoSperm microrobots along with Sarthak Misra and colleagues at MIRA-Institute for Biomedical Technology and Technical Medicine at the University of Twente.

Dr Misra, principal investigator of this study and an associate professor at the University of Twente, said:

“Nature has designed efficient tools for locomotion at micro-scales. Our microrobots are either inspired from nature or directly use living micro-organisms such as magnetotactic bacteria and sperm cells for complex micro-manipulation and targeted therapy tasks.”

The range of biomedical tasks MagnetoSperm can perform include targeted drug delivery, in vitro fertilisation, cell sorting and cleaning of clogged arteries.

The microrobot was made by spin-coating onto a silicon support wafer a five-micron layer of SU-8, a polymer chosen for its ease of fabrication and mechanical stability. The cobalt-nickel layer was then added to the head by use of electron beam evaporation.

In the future, the researchers hope to further scale down the size of MagnetoSperm. The team is currently working on a method to generate a magnetic nanofiber.

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