‘Micromotor’ Robots May Combat Stomach Ulcers

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In recent years, the most prominent developments in robotics have been at the macro scale. From the Mars rovers to Amazon’s rapid adoption of automation in their shipping warehouses, such stories have, for a time, eclipsed the progress made in both microrobotics and nanorobotics. A recent project from researchers and scientists at the prestigious University of California San Diego, however, is garnering fresh interest in the topic.

A report from the research team indicated that they had successfully used “micromotors,” autonomous robotic vehicles roughly the width of a single human hair, to successfully deliver antibiotics to rats and mice with bacterial stomach infections. While the technology is still in its preliminary phase, the researchers already see the potentially revolutionary robots being trialed on human subjects, though only after tests are carried out on other large mammals first.

The round micromotors are built with a magnesium core surrounded by several layers designed to protect the sensitive tech from moisture and stomach acid. They propel themselves via the generation of bubbles which, according to the tests, actually helped the afflicted stomach lining in the rats to better retain the delivered antibiotic medicine. The bubbles are produced through a simple chemical reaction between the micromotor’s magnesium core and the stomach acid. Since the tiny vehicles are a mere fraction of a millimeter in length, they are easily swallowed and, once levels of stomach acid return to normal, are dissolved, rendering their life cycle around 24 hours.

According to the results of the trial, the micromotors were more effective than taking the drugs on their own. Some stomach ailments are notoriously difficult to treat, as the acids of the stomach can destroy the medications before they are able to reach the afflicted areas. While this can be overcome by pairing them with other medications, this heightens the likelihood of side effects, which often mirror the very symptoms doctors were attempting to treat in the first place. The micomotors are able to overcome this simply by delivering the medicine quickly to where it needs to be.

Future applications of the university’s micromotors aren’t limited to stomach ailments. The so-called “blood-brain barrier,” a membrane which often prevents medications from exiting the bloodstream to reach the brain, has made treating conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s exceptionally difficult. Though widespread application is still a way’s off, the team revealed that their micromotors, when fueled by glucose, could overcome this barrier. Overall, the devices are a promising new treatment for a broad spectrum of illnesses.

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