Fit to Swim Arteries

Photo: The tiny microbot swims in artery

The microbot on its way through
the artery; © Monash University

A recent research paper details how researchers are harnessing piezoelectricity, the energy force most commonly used to trigger-start a gas stove, to produce microbot motors just 250 micrometres, a quarter of a millimetre, wide.

Methods of minimally invasive surgery, such as keyhole surgery and a range of operations that utilise catheters, tubes inserted into body cavities to allow surgical manoeuvrability, are preferred by surgeons and patients because of the damage avoided when contrasted against cut and sew operations. Serious damage during minimally invasive surgery is however not always avoidable and surgeons are often limited by, for example, the width of a catheter tube which, in serious cases, can fatally puncture narrow arteries.

Remote controlled miniature robots small enough to swim up arteries could save lives by reaching parts of the body, like a stroke-damaged cranial artery, that catheters have previously been unable to reach. With the right sensor equipment attached to the microbot motor, the surgeon's view of, for example, a patient's troubled artery can be enhanced and the ability to work remotely also increases the surgeon's dexterity.

Professor James Friend and his team at Australia's Monash University began their research over two years ago in the belief that piezoelectricity was the most suitable energy force for micro-motors because the engines can be scaled down while remaining forceful enough, even at the sizes necessary to enter the bloodstream, for motors to swim against the blood's current and reach spots difficult to operate upon.

Piezoelectricity is most commonly found in quartz watches and gas stoves. It is based on the ability of some materials to generate electric potential in response to mechanical stress.

The team has produced prototypes of the motors and is now working on ways to improve the assembly method and the mechanical device which moves and controls the micro-motors.

MEDICA.de; Source: Monash University