October 5, 2022

Researchers develop mass production technology for biodegradable microrobots

Biodegradable microrobots (right) respond to external magnetic attraction. (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology)

Scientists have developed new technology to enable the mass production of biodegradable microrobots that could help improve the effectiveness of regenerative medicine such as stem cell therapy, the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology said on Tuesday.

A joint research team consisting of scientists from DGIST, Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital of the Catholic University of Korea and the Swiss public university ETH Zurich has developed a method to produce more than 100 biodegradable microrobots by minute, approximately 10,000 times faster than existing medical micro robot manufacturing technology.

The researchers applied magnetic nanoparticle technology inside the new microbots so that their movements in the human body could be controlled using magnetic pulls.

Research has demonstrated that microrobots bearing stem cells on the surface move to desired positions in a micro maze by controlling the external magnetic field. DGIST pointed out that the new technology is a significant improvement because existing stem cell therapies have difficulty selectively delivering cells to certain locations.

The researchers said the biodegradable microrobots attached to the stem cells were completely broken down six hours after being cultured with decomposition enzymes. The nanoparticles inside the microrobots were then picked up by the magnetic control system.

The stem cells underwent cell differentiation to become neural cells after approximately 21 days, confirming that the novel microrobots can act as a target precision treatment for stem cell therapy.

The research team also verified that the stem cells delivered by the microrobots exhibited normal electrical and physiological characteristics using hippocampal nerve cells extracted from mice. They placed the cells on the surface of the microrobots and found that the cells started emitting electrical signals 28 days after cell culture.

“We expect that the technologies developed through this study, such as mass production of micro-robots, precision driving by electromagnetic fields, stem cell transfer and differentiation, will significantly increase the efficiency of targeted precision therapy in the future,” said Choi Hong-soo, lead author of the study and professor of robotics at DGIST.

The study, published in the internationally renowned scientific journal Small in June, was funded by the National Science Challenges Support and Network, the National Research Foundation of Korea and the Ministry of Science and ICT.

By Kan Hyeong-woo ([email protected])