With the world’s ageing population, brain diseases are becoming a major global health care concern. However, California appears to have devised a solution: implanting microscopic robots into the human skull.
In just two years, Bionaut Labs plans to begin human clinical trials for their miniature injectable robots, which can be guided through the brain using magnets.
“The idea of the microrobot came about way before I was born,” said co-founder and CEO Michael Shpigelmacher.
“One of the most famous examples is a book by Isaac Asimov and a film called ‘Fantastic Voyage,’ where a crew of scientists goes inside a miniaturized spaceship into the brain, to treat a blood clot.”
Bionaut Labs, in collaboration with Germany’s renowned Max Planck research institutes, decided to use magnetic energy to propel the robots since it is non-harmful to the human body.
Magnetic coils implanted outside the patient’s skull are linked to a computer, which may remotely and delicately navigate the micro-robot into the damaged area of the brain before detaching it through the same channel. The overall system is portable and consumes 10 to 100 times less energy.
The robot, which is shaped like a tiny bullet and is made of metal, follows a pre-programmed direction through a gel-filled container that resembles the density of the human brain. When the robot gets close enough to a pouch filled with blue liquid, it accelerates and pierces the pouch with its pointed end, allowing liquid to spill out.
The researchers want to use the robot to penetrate fluid-filled cysts within the brain. If the procedure is effective, it could be used to treat Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a rare brain abnormality that affects children.
Shpigelmacher stated that Bionaut Labs has already tested its robots on large animals such as sheep and pigs and that “the data confirms that the technology is safe for us.”
If legalized, the robots could provide significant improvements over current therapies for brain illnesses.
“Today, most brain surgery and brain intervention is limited to straight lines – if you don’t have a straight line to the target, you’re stuck, you’re not going to get there,” said Shpigelmacher.
The FDA granted Bionaut Labs approval last year, paving the path for clinical studies to treat Dandy-Walker Syndrome and malignant gliomas — cancerous brain tumours that are frequently thought incurable.