February 24, 2024

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Hong Kong: Modular Microrobots for Targeted Cell Delivery

Image Credits: CUHK, Press Release

A collaborative effort spearheaded by Professor Zhang Li from the Faculty of Engineering, alongside Professor Philip Chiu Wai-yan and Professor Tony Chan Kai-fung from the Faculty of Medicine (CU Medicine) at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu from Nanyang Technological University, has resulted in the development of a modular microrobot, as detailed in a recent publication in Science Advances.

Image Credits: CUHK, Press Release

Microrobots face significant challenges in achieving robust actuation, multifunctionality, and long-term biosafety simultaneously. Current methods of cell-based therapy delivery in the biliary tract or liver are often imprecise, with a majority of cells failing to reach the intended target. Magnetic microrobots offer a promising solution due to their ability to navigate inaccessible regions within the body. However, challenges arise in integrating multifunctionality into these devices while ensuring long-term biosafety, particularly in environments with mucous.

The newly developed modular magnetic microrobot represents a significant breakthrough in addressing these challenges, offering a strategy to equip microrobots with superior magnetic actuation and cellular functionality without compromise. Professor Zhang describes the microrobot as a combination of magnetic actuation (MA) and cell scaffold (CS) modules, akin to a rocket and a satellite, respectively.

The MA module propels and controls the microrobot, while the CS module facilitates cell loading and biodegradability, enabling targeted therapy. Upon reaching the target site, the MA and CS modules separate, allowing the MA module, which contains a high dose of magnetic materials, to be retrieved using an endoscope, minimising potential hazards. This retrievable design enables the use of high-dose magnetic materials to combat dynamic biological environments, enhancing the effectiveness of cell therapy delivery.

Professor Sung highlights the transformative potential of the microrobot, offering a minimally invasive approach to inaccessible body systems and the treatment of inflammatory or malignant conditions. Validation in vivo using rabbit models has demonstrated the efficacy of magnetic navigation, on-demand disassembly, and post-operative retrieval.

Professor Chiu emphasises the significance of the research in enabling direct endoluminal delivery of cells into the targeted region in the biliary tract, while eliminating the risk of residual high-dose magnetic materials. This approach presents a new avenue for endoluminal cell-based therapy of bile duct diseases.

Professor Chan underscores the versatility of the modular microrobots, which can be combined with different modules to extend functionality for various applications. Moreover, compatibility with medical imaging modalities such as X-ray fluoroscopy and ultrasound imaging paves the way for clinical translation.

The team envisions the modular microrobots as a promising platform for minimally invasive interventions, offering high efficiency and safety across diverse clinical applications. The development of such technology represents a significant advancement in the field of biomedical engineering, with implications for the treatment of a wide range of diseases and conditions.

The collaborative efforts of the research team have led to the development of a modular microrobot that holds immense promise in revolutionising targeted cell delivery and endoluminal interventions. With its innovative design and multifunctionality, the microrobot represents a significant advancement in biomedical technology, offering new avenues for minimally invasive therapies and improved patient outcomes.


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