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Tiny Robots Developed to Study Human Cells

Tiny Robots Developed to Study Human Cells

Tuesday, 19 March, 2019 - 06:45
A graduate student studies cancer cells in the Nanomedicine Lab at UCL's School of Pharmacy in London. (Reuters)
London - Asharq Al-Awsat
Aiming at studying human cells, researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada, have created a set of magnetic tweezers that can position a nano-scale robot inside a human cell.

The nano-scale bead robot can be used to study the properties of cancer cells and point the way toward enhanced diagnosis and treatment.

Professor Yu Sun and his team have been building robots that can manipulate individual cells for two decades. The new robot has the ability to measure single cells, which can be useful in procedures such as in-vitro fertilization and personalized medicine.

The TechXplore website cited Professor Sun as saying: "So far, our robot has been exploring outside a building, touching the brick wall, and trying to figure out what's going on inside."

The team has created robotic systems that can manipulate sub-cellular structures inside electron microscopes, but that requires freeze-drying the cells and cutting them into tiny slices. To probe live cells, other teams have used techniques such as lasers or acoustics.

Researcher Xian Wang, who partook in the study, explained that the new technique uses six magnetic coils placed in different planes around a microscope coverslip. A magnetic iron bead about 700 nanometers in diameter, about 100 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, is placed on the coverslip, where the cancer cells easily take it up inside their membranes.

Sun assure that this technique will be more useful in the future, saying: "You could imagine bringing in whole swarms of these nano-bots, and using them to either starve a tumor by blocking the blood vessels into the tumor, or destroy it directly via mechanical ablation. This would offer a way to treat cancers that are resistant to chemotherapy, and radiotherapy."

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