Star-shaped grippers could help doctors operate and take biopsies

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Thu 12th Mar, 2015

Remember the shiver down your back when you went to a museum of medicine and saw the surgical instruments?

Cutters, saws, holders, forceps, clamps and countless other accessories...

All of them probably made you close your eyes and whisper "uuhhhh" with disgust and repulsion. And now, can you envision the same museum being... empty?

What if there comes a day when surgeries would become "tool free"?

Imagine this: you come to the hospital for a surgical intervention and no stainless steel gadgets are used.

Does it sound like science fiction? Perhaps it should not any more.

Last month a team of American scientists announced they have developed tiny mechanized structures, which could be used in robotics or surgery.

Previously, this team led by Professor David Gracias (Department of Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University) has shown that biopsies can be performed using dust sized surgical forceps.

Their newest finding showcases origami inspired microstructures (called microgrippers) that bring robotics into a new level of performance.

Classical hard robots are made of metals and ceramics.

They move upon hydraulic, electrical or pneumatic signals and can perform extremely precise tasks.

However, they are heavy, complex and rely on a ready source of power and gas giving rise to several limitations.

The new, soft robots are very different. They are manufactured using two types of soft polymers, which makes them feel like biological components.

They are transparent; so that they do not impede monitoring of the tissue they are working on. They dissolve into naturally existing components, which makes them safe if they are left behind.

Moreover, the soft robots contain magnetic particles, which makes it possible to move them using magnetic fields and provide contrast for their observation.

Finally, their reversible opening and closing occurs automatically when the temperature goes above or below 36degree celsius and is achieved by autonomous swelling of their parts.

The group led by Professor Gracias showed that the microgrippers are capable of extracting singular cells from cell clump, while maintaining them alive.

The tiny robots can be delivered and retrieved using a regular pipette and their position in cell culture can be adjusted easily using magnetic fields.

Professor Gracias commented on the new discovery: "This is a demonstration on how surgery and medicine can be better achieved with small, mechanized structures. As compared to the passive pills of the past and present, the new discovery offers a glimpse of the future where there would be tiny dissolvable pills or tools with moving parts. These could perhaps achieve better diagnostics and therapeutic interventions."

In Professor Gracias' vision, the soft, dust sized robots can be successfully applied in "statistical surveillance biopsies and sustained drug delivery".

This could happen as soon as the necessary tests ensuring efficacy and safety are done.

So, who knows - maybe biopsies of the future will be "tool free"?


Image credit: American Chemical Society


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