A robot that travels through the body

The reference to the 1966 movie "Fantastic Voyage" is maybe too obvious. But Israeli scientists have developed a 1-millimeter-diameter medical robot that will be able to crawl within our veins and arteries. It's too early to know when this medical robot is allowed to explore a real human being. But the researchers think it could be used to fight some cancers. They even envision groups of robots working simultaneously to fight metastases.

The reference to the 1966 movie "Fantastic Voyage" is maybe too obvious. But Israeli scientists have developed a 1-millimeter-diameter medical robot that will be able to crawl within our veins and arteries. It's too early to know when this medical robot is allowed to explore a real human being. But the researchers think it could be used to fight some cancers. They even envision groups of robots working simultaneously to fight metastases.

The new Israeli mini-submarine robot

You can see above "an artist's rendition of what the tiny submarine robot would look like." (Credit: Unknown, via the Jerusalem Post) This miniature robot has been developed by Dr. Nir Schwalb of the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel and Oded Salomon of the mechanical engineering department of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Unfortunately, the researchers are not publishing their research work -- at least in English. The only details I've found are coming from the Israeli medias. Here are some quotes from the Jerusalem Post.

It is too early to know what medical uses the robot will have, but they suggest the possibility of being involved in brachytherapy, in which cancer patients are exposed to short-distance radiotherapy from a source placed inside or next to the area requiring treatment. Brachytherapy is commonly used to treat localized prostate cancer and cancers of the head and neck. In addition, numerous robots could be used simultaneously to deal with a large number of metastases (malignant tumors spread through the body).
The researchers stress that the project is an "interesting development, but it has a long way to go before it is used in medicine." Solomon says that the tiny robot could be controlled for an unlimited amount of time to carry out any necessary medical procedure. The power source is an external magnetic field created near the patient that does not cause any harm to humans but supplies an endless supply of power for it to function. The robot's special structure enables it to move while being controlled by the operator using the magnetic field.

You'll find other details in an article from Haaretz, "Miniature robot that travels through the bloodstream."

"For the first time a miniature robot has been planned and constructed, that has the unique ability to crawl within the human body's veins and arteries," said Dr. Nir Shvalb of the College of Judea and Samaria yesterday. "The robot will be able to crawl against the bloodstream with a force typical of blood vessels within the body without any problem, which has not been possible before."
The new robot consists of a hub from which tiny arms stretch out, allowing the robot to strongly grip the vessel walls. The operators can manipulate the robot to move in increments, and its special structure allows it to crawl within a variety of vessels with differing diameters.

When will this robot will be really available? And when will it be approved by regulators? The Israeli newspapers don't say. But I guess it will not be before a number of years.

Sources: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, The Jerusalem Post, June 26, 2007; Guy Griml, Haaretz, June 26, 2007; and various websites

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