University of Waterloo Researchers Develop Soft Medical Microrobots
A team of researchers from the University of Waterloo has created smart, advanced materials that will serve as the foundation for the next generation of soft medical microrobots. These tiny robots have the potential to revolutionize medical procedures by conducting minimally invasive tasks such as biopsies and cell and tissue transport within the human body.
Advanced Hydrogel Composites Enable Delicate Cargo Delivery
These miniature soft robots, which measure a maximum of one centimeter in length, are both bio-compatible and non-toxic. The robots are constructed using sustainable cellulose nanoparticles derived from plants, making them environmentally friendly.
Led by Professor Hamed Shahsavan, the research team from the Department of Chemical Engineering has adopted a holistic approach to the design, synthesis, fabrication, and manipulation of microrobots. Key to their development is the use of a hydrogel that changes shape when exposed to external chemical stimulation. By harnessing the unique properties of cellulose nanoparticles, researchers can program the shape-change, an essential feature for the creation of functional soft robots.
Self-Healing Material and Magnetism for Enhanced Functionality
Another remarkable characteristic of this advanced smart material is its self-healing ability. Researchers can cut the material and seamlessly reassemble it without the need for glue or other adhesives, allowing for versatile customization of robot shapes to suit different medical procedures.
Moreover, the material can be modified to possess magnetism, facilitating the movement of soft robots through the human body. In a proof-of-concept experiment, researchers used a magnetic field to navigate the tiny robot through a maze.
Chemical Engineers at the Forefront of Medical Microrobotics
Professor Shahsavan, the director of the Smart Materials for Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART-Lab), emphasizes the vital role of chemical engineers in advancing medical microrobotics research. The interdisciplinary nature of this field requires the diverse skill set and knowledge possessed by chemical engineers, including heat and mass transfer, fluid mechanics, reaction engineering, polymers, soft matter science, and biochemical systems.
The next phase of the research aims to scale down the robot to submillimeter sizes, unlocking further possibilities for medical applications.
Collaborating with Tizazu Mekonnen from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Waterloo, Professor Shirley Tang, the Associate Dean of Science (Research), and Professor Amirreza Aghakhani from the University of Stuttgart in Germany, Professor Shahsavan’s research group is at the forefront of developing innovative avenues within the emerging field of medical microrobotics.