researchers from University of Tel Aviv developed a hybrid microrobot, the size of a single biological cell (about 10 microns in diameter), which can be controlled and navigated using two different mechanisms: electric and magnetic. The microrobot is capable of navigating between different cells in a biological sample, distinguishing between different types of cells, identifying whether they are healthy or dying, and then transporting the desired cell for further studies, such as genetic analyses.

The microrobot can also transfect a drug and/or a gene into the captured individual target cell. According to the researchers, the development could aid in further research in the important field of single-cell analysis, as well as finding use in medical diagnostics, drug delivery and detection, surgery and environmental protection.

«The microbot has an improved ability to identify and capture a single cell, without the need for labeling, for local testing or retrieval and transport to an external instrument.«

The innovative technology was developed by Professor Gilad Yossiphon from the Tel Aviv University School of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Biomedical Engineering and his team, consisting of postdoctoral researcher Dr. Yue Wuand the student Sivan Yakovin collaboration with Dr. Afu Fu, postdoctoral researcher at Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. The research was published in the journal advanced science.

Professor Gilad Yossifon explains that microrobots (sometimes called micromotors or active particles) are small synthetic particles the size of a biological cell, which can move from one place to another and perform various actions (for example, collecting synthetic materials or biological). or by external control by an operator.

According to Yossifon, “The development of the microrobot’s ability to move autonomously was inspired by biological microswimmers such as bacteria and sperm. This is a fast-developing, innovative research area with a wide variety of uses in areas such as medicine and the environment, as well as a research tool.«.

Identification of unlabeled target cells

Demonstrating the capabilities of the microrobot, the researchers used it to capture individual blood and cancer cells and a single bacteria, demonstrating that it is able to distinguish between cells with different levels of viability, such as a healthy cell, a cell damaged by a drug or a cell that is dying or dying in a natural process of “suicide” (such a distinction can be significant, for example, in the development of anticancer drugs).

After identifying the desired cell, the microrobot captured it and moved it to a location where it could be analyzed later. Another important innovation is the microrobot’s ability to identify target cells that are not labeled: the microrobot identifies the cell type and its state (such as health) using a built-in detection engine based on the cell’s state, with unique electrical properties.

Professor Yossifon states that, “our new development significantly advances technology in two main aspects: hybrid propulsion and navigation through two different mechanisms: electric and magnetic. In addition, the microbot has an improved ability to identify and capture a single cell, without the need for labeling, for local testing or retrieval and transport to an external instrument. This research was carried out on biological samples in the laboratory for in vitro tests, but the intention is to develop microrobots in the future that also work inside the body, for example as effective drug carriers that can be precisely guided to the target.«.

An important technology in physiological environments

The researchers explain that the microrobot’s hybrid propulsion mechanism is of particular importance in physiological environments such as those found in liquid biopsies. “IMicrorobots that until now operated based on an electrical drive mechanism were not effective in certain environments characterized by relatively high electrical conductivity, such as a physiological environment, where electrical drive is less effective. This is where the highly effective complementary magnetic mechanism comes into play, regardless of the electrical conductivity of the environment.«.

Professor Yossifon concludes that, “In our research, we developed an innovative microrobot with important capabilities that significantly contribute to the field: hybrid propulsion and navigation through a combination of electric and magnetic fields, as well as the ability to identify, capture and transport a single cell from one location to another. in a physiological environment. These features are relevant to a wide variety of applications as well as research.«.

A laboratory in a particle

«Among other things, the technology will support the following areas: medical diagnosis at the single-cell level, introducing drugs or genes into cells, editing genes, transporting drugs to their destination within the body, cleaning the environment from polluting particles, developing of drugs, and create a ‘laboratory in a particle’, a microscopic laboratory designed to perform diagnostics in places accessible only to microparticles«.

Source: advanced science.