I have to say I have my doubts about this procedure as an alternative to colonoscopy.
(Robot swarm microgrippers perform colonoscopy)
At Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, David Gracias and his colleagues have developed microgrippers—star-shaped devices that can measure less than 500 micrometers from tip to tip. The grippers can be made of materials that respond to environmental factors such as temperature, pH, and even enzymes. A temperature-sensitive gripper’s arms will close when exposed to the body’s heat. If placed well, the arms will close around tissue, performing a miniature biopsy.
Such grippers might provide a less invasive way to screen for colon cancer in patients who suffer from chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. Today, Gracias says, such screening can involve taking dozens of samples with forceps, in an effort to get good statistical coverage of the interior surface of the colon. Instead, a doctor could insert hundreds or thousands of microgrippers into the colon through a tube and then retrieve them using a magnet or, later, by sifting through the patient’s stool.
Based on tests in live pigs, Gracias’s team estimates that about one-third of the grippers capture tissue. Others may come up empty-handed because they have the wrong orientation or close before reaching anything. But he says this approach, which minimizes the cost and maximizes the ease of manufacturing, could be powerful.
“The typical idea has been that you have one device that you guide precisely [to perform a] surgical procedure,” Gracias says. His strategy borrows a page from the imperfect world of biology: “If you have a large number of not-perfect devices, you may be able to achieve the same functionality as one perfect one.”
These microgrippers bear an uncomfortable resemblance to 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 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...
(Read more about cookie-cutters)
If long-time Technovelgy readers think that this story seems familiar, you're right; I wrote about Microgrippers Grab, Cut Tissue Internally in 2008. Technovelgy readers always have one foot in the future!