Could tiny robot propellers replace medication?

Who needs medication, or surgeries, or much of anything really when we could soon have tiny robot propellors running through our veins? It might sound like science fiction (or that old Dennis Quaid movie I was always too squeamish to watch), but it’s real.

Scientists from the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute, the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, and the Institute for Physical Chemistry at the University of Stuttgart have designed a propeller just 400 nanometres long, with a diameter of 70 nanometres (100 times smaller than one of our blood cells). It’s made of a silica and nickel filament and the researchers trialled its use in hyaluronan, a gel-like bodily fluid found in the joints and eyeballs. Not only were they able to make the propeller move through this substance, they were able to control its direction using magnets.

If they’re able to replicate this experience in human trials, these tiny remote-controlled robots could have all kinds of applications, including testing and medication. It should one day be possible for targeted doses of medicine and even radiation to be delivered in this way, and because it would go straight to the area it’s needed, could dramatically cut down on side effects. Plus, you’ll feel like you’re in a sci-fi movie: win-win.

Image via e-Magine Art’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley