Scientists have been looking for new ways to treat cancer for years. New shape-changing robots could offer a new avenue of treatment. The new robots are shaped like a fish and can deliver drugs directly to affected cells. This may help reduce the side effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy.
The study was conducted as a proof of concept. The researchers reported in ACS Nano that the fish-shaped microrobots they created were able to track changes in pH. These changes could then trigger a response from the robots, which would release the chemotherapy drugs to the patient.
How shape-changing robots could help people
A researcher working in a laboratory. Image source: JHDT Productions / Adobe
Researchers and scientists have used microscopic robots in a multitude of tests. These little robots can manipulate tiny objects, but most of the ones we’ve seen so far can’t change their shape in any way. In this new study, researchers Jiawen Li, Li Zhang, Dong Wu and others worked together to develop shape-morphing microrobots.
They designed the robots to use magnets as guides. This would allow doctors to send them to specific sites to deliver treatment. Additionally, because tumors often exist in microenvironments, the team designed the small tools to change shape and deliver treatment in response to lowered pH levels. The concept is interesting and could prove useful in finding new ways to offer treatment to cancer patients.
Scientists have demonstrated multiple ways to use microrobots. They were able to program the fish-shaped one to open and close its mouth. Researchers could then control when and where he released the drugs. Because they could control it, they were able to release the chemotherapy drugs closer to the cells that needed them. This would reduce collateral damage to the body and better target cancer treatment.
Proving the concept
To start proving the original concept, the researchers created tiny 4D-printed robots in the shape of a crab, butterfly, and fish. They used a pH-sensitive hydrogel to create them, which allowed the robots to activate based on the surrounding pH levels. Once printed, they also made the robots magnetic by placing them in a suspension of iron oxide nanoparticles. This allowed them to control the robots using magnets.
Of course, this is only a proof of the concept. There aren’t any fish-shaped microrobots ready to fight cancer yet. The data from this new test could open new doors to cancer treatment.
Chemotherapy can weaken the human body because the drugs used in treatments have no way of determining which cells to attack. It is difficult to control where the drugs go. Because of this. the whole body often suffers from it. If scientists can prove the concept and design easy-to-guide microrobots, we may have a new cancer treatment option for those who need it.