Mechanical engineers at Drexel University are developing magnetic microbeads which can “swim” through the human bloodstream to deliver medicine as well as perform non-invasive surgery. The beads are comprised of iron oxide and are linked together by chemical bonds and magnetic force. They are remote controlled via magnetic fields which cause them to rotate, or twist like a corkscrew, and propel the chain of microbeads forward. Though as of the live science article, the scientists at Drexel have only begun the task of making this innovation a reality by demonstrating that they can assemble (which is the most difficult aspect) and disassemble (much easier to do) the microbead chains. The ultimate goal is to assemble more complex configurations and combinations which can have different uses.
A chain of three microbeads is 10 microns long, or about one tenth the size of an average sized human hair. Researchers have found that longer chains of microbeads swim faster than shorter ones when rotated at the same frequency. The live science article does point out that there are still some hurdles to overcome like being able to see the microbeads without the use of a microscope, as well as, get feedback from the beads. “Researchers observe the chains under a microscope, and remotely manipulate the “microswimmers” by adjusting an array of three solenoids, electromagnets that produce a controlled magnetic field. When rotated, the chains swim through fluid.” (livescience, 2016) Currently, the microbeads are being used as part of a research initiative to assist in creating a minimally invasive procedure for handling blocked arteries. (drexel.edu, 2016)
These microbeads would be a significant advancement in the field of medicine by allowing doctors and surgeons to deliver medicine and perform non-invasive surgeries in targeted areas of the body. For hard to get to locations along with confined openings to the desired location, the microbeads could travel in a thin chain and disassemble and reconfigure themselves into whatever shape is needed once they arrive to the target area. Of course, per the live science article, they don’t yet know what final shape or combination of microbeads they will need or want.
With today’s social and cultural values, which seek to use innovation to prolong our lives and make them better, one can really see the appeal of this invention as there is a need for more precise methods for delivering medicines as opposed to a “shotgunning” approach, such as chemotherapy radiation, which can have a damaging effect on the body as a whole. The microbeads would allow medicine to be delivered to a specific area of the body, which would hopefully provide instant relief to the affected area, while preventing damage to any other areas of the body. But even greater than that, the potential of the microbeads to perform non-invasive surgery on the human body, which should lower the risks associated with surgery and leave no external scarring, is tremendous.
These microbeads remind me of the animated movie, Big Hero 6, where the young brother invents tiny microbots that link together to create one larger robot or multiple smaller robots and can form into any shape desired through a neuro transmitter headband. Like the tiny robots in Big Hero 6, these microbeads could potentially be misused by nefarious persons for evil purposes, such as the delivery of poison or an overdose of medicine into a person’s bloodstream to kill them. But, instead of dwelling on the potential downside of innovation, I prefer to look on the bright side of things and believe that these microbeads could be more beneficial than harmful. Still, it is strange to see real-life mimic the movies. Or perhaps this invention was the muse for Big Hero 6? In any case, it is crazy to me to see how technology evolves. I sometimes feel like it is moving past me, leaving me behind as a relic of the past. I suppose, in a way, a form of the “cyborgs” of television and movies are already living and breathing among us via modern technology advancements, with these tiny microbeads being simply a part of natural progression of technology. I am left a little scared, if not even terrified, but also in awe and wonder of where society will take modern technology next. Or perhaps, it is taking us!