According to Nanoengineers at the University of California, 3D printed “fish” could soon be swimming in our bloodstreams to help fight off infections and diseases.
The research group at Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego has developed a technology called “Microscale continuous optical printing” which is capable of printing hundrends of microrobots in seconds. These synthetic “microfish” are “smart” and capable of providing drug delivery, detoxification, and can provide sensing techniques for medical research.
Professors Joseph Wang and Shaochen Chen is leading the research and an article was published in the August 12th issue of the Advanced Materials journal which outlines their research and their currently development of it.
Chen helped develop the 3D printing technology and when combined with Wang’s vast knowledge of microrobots, the two were able to build the “microfish”. By adding nanoparticiles into parts of the microfish tails, the mircrofish was able to propel forward when it reacted with hydrogen peroxide. The magnetic iron oxide nanoparticiles in the heads of the microfish allowed for the microfish to be steered with magnets.
“We have developed an entirely new method to engineer nature-inspired microscopic swimmers that have complex geometric structures and are smaller than the width of a human hair. With this method, we can easily integrate different functions inside these tiny robotic swimmers for a broad spectrum of applications,” said the co-first author Wei Zhu, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student in Chen’s research group at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego
As a proof-of-concept demonstration, the researchers incorporated toxin-neutralizing nanoparticles throughout the bodies of the microfish. Specifically, the researchers mixed in polydiacetylene (PDA) nanoparticles, which capture harmful pore-forming toxins such as the ones found in bee venom. The researchers noted that the powerful swimming of the microfish in solution greatly enhanced their ability to clean up toxins. When the PDA nanoparticles bind with toxin molecules, they become fluorescent and emit red-colored light. The team was able to monitor the detoxification ability of the microfish by the intensity of their red glow.
“The neat thing about this experiment is that it shows how the microfish can doubly serve as detoxification systems and as toxin sensors,” said Zhu.
“Another exciting possibility we could explore is to encapsulate medicines inside the microfish and use them for directed drug delivery,” said Jinxing Li, the other co-first author of the study and a nanoengineering Ph.D. student in Wang’s research group.