Researchers working to develop MRI-powered mini robots to deliver treatment

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Researchers from the University of Houston (UH) and Houston Methodist Hospital are working to develop and deploy MRI-powered mini robots to travel the body’s venous system delivering drugs or a self-assembled interventional tool as treatment.

“We want to move from science fiction to science feasibility,” said Aaron Becker, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UH and principal investigator for a $608,000 Synergy Award from the National Science Foundation to develop prototypes for testing, in a UH statement.

The current models that Becker and investigators Nikolas Tsekos and Dipan J. Shah are working on are up two centimeters. The goal is for the robots to range anywhere from 0.5 to two millimeters. In comparison, the average human hair is approximately 0.08 millimeters wide.

Although MRI provides enough magnetic force to move the robots through the body’s blood vessels, it is not able to penetrate tumors or other tissue. For this reason, the researchers will be working on two projectsone based on principle of mechanical resonance and the other modeled after a self-assembling surgical tool.

“Ultimately, the goal is to use the power of an MRI to steer large numbers of robots throughout the body. While one milli-robot could target a single lesion, delivering chemotherapy or another intervention, that isn’t practical for a late-stage cancer, for example,” said Becker in a statement.