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Mu-Gripper Microsurgical 'Robots'

Tiny Mu-Gripper 'robots' the size of a speck of dust are the latest way to perform a biopsy in the constrained regions of the body.


(Mu-gripper by magnetic catheter)

In two recent peer-reviewed journal articles, the team reported successful animal testing of the tiny tools, which require no batteries, wires or tethers as they seize internal tissue samples. The devices are called “mu-grippers,” incorporating the Greek letter that represents the term for “micro.” Instead of relying on electric or pneumatic power, these star-shaped tools are autonomously activated by the body’s heat, which causes their tiny “fingers” to close on clusters of cells. Because the tools also contain a magnetic material, they can be retrieved through an existing body opening via a magnetic catheter.

In the April print edition of Gastroenterology, the researchers described their use of the mu-grippers to collect cells from the colon and esophagus of a pig, which was selected because its intestinal tract is similar to that of humans.

“This is the first time that anyone has used a sub-millimeter-sized device—the size of a dust particle—to conduct a biopsy in a live animal,” said David Gracias, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering whose lab team developed the microgrippers.

Technovelgy readers will not be surprised if I reference the Proteus from the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage. However, a more intriguing reference comes to mind; the cookie-cutters from Neal Stephenson's 1995 novel The Diamond Age.

Microscopic invaders were more of the threat nowadays. Just to name one example, there was the Red Death, a.k.a. the Seven Minute Special, a tiny aerodynamic capsule that burst open on impact and released a thousand or so corpuscle-sized bodies, known colloquially as cookie-cutters, into the victim's bloodstream. It took about seven minutes ... for the cookie cutters to be randomly distributed throughout the victim's organs and limbs.

A cookie-cutter was shaped like an aspirin tablet ... two tiny centrifuges. Detonation dissolved the bonds holding the centrifuges together so that each of a thousand or so ballisticules suddenly flew outward...The victim was just a big leaky sack of undifferentiated gore at this point and, of course, never survived.

Via Johns Hopkins.

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