Nanoengineers at the University of California-San Diego have developed fish-shaped microrobots using an innovative 3D printing technology that can soon help deliver drugs efficiently to the targeted areas in the human body.
Called microfish, these can swim around efficiently in liquids, are chemically powered by hydrogen peroxide and magnetically controlled.
According to researchers, these custom-build synthetic microfish will inspire a new generation of "smart" microrobots with diverse capabilities.
"We have developed an entirely new method to engineer nature-inspired microscopic swimmers that have complex geometric structures and are smaller than the width of a human hair," explained co-first author Wei Zhu, PhD student at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.
"With our 3D-printing technology, we are not limited to just fish shapes. We can rapidly build microrobots inspired by other biological organisms such as birds," Zhu informed.
The neat thing about this experiment is that it shows how the microfish can doubly serve as detoxification systems and as toxin sensors.
"Another exciting possibility we could explore is to encapsulate medicines inside the microfish and use them for directed drug delivery," noted Jinxing Li, other co-first author of the study.
The new microfish fabrication method is based on a rapid, high-resolution 3D printing technology called microscale continuous optical printing (microscale COP).
Some of the benefits of the microscale COP technology are speed, scalability, precision and flexibility.
Within seconds, the researchers can print an array containing hundreds of microfish, each measuring 120 microns long and 30 microns thick.
"With this method, we can easily integrate different functions inside these tiny robotic swimmers for a broad spectrum of applications," Zhu added.
The research, led by Professors Shaochen Chen and Joseph Wang of the NanoEngineering Department at the UC San Diego, was published in the Aug. 12 issue of the journal Advanced Materials