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TAU Scientists Create hybrid micro-robot for Medical Care

Hybrid Micro-Robot

The Hybrid Micro-Robot Team (from TAU video)

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a hybrid micro-robot, the size of a single biological cell (about 10 microns across), that can be controlled and navigated using two different mechanisms – electric and magnetic. The micro-robot, they say, is able to navigate between different cells in a biological sample, distinguish between different types of cells, identify whether they are healthy or dying, and then transport the desired cell for further study, such as genetic analysis.

March has been a banner month for scientific breakthroughs made in Israel. And Tel Aviv University has been at the forefront as this is its fourth such breakthrough announced so far this month alone. First, in what was described as a rare scientific discovery, Researchers from the Tel Aviv University (TAU) School of Zoology, Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and of The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History Museum identified an entirely new type of snake called the Micrelapidae. The scientists found that Micrelapidae, small snakes usually with black and yellow rings, diverged from the evolutionary tree of other snakes about 50 million years ago.

Then, a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Institute for Biological Research have developed an mRNA-based vaccine that they say is 100% effective against a type of bacteria that is lethal to humans. And also in March a study conducted by TAU and the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute succeeded in dramatically increasing the health and medicinal value of seaweed so that it can be used in the superfood, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries of the future.

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As for this new micro-robot, it can also transfect a drug and/or gene into the captured targeted single cell. According to the researchers, the development may help promote research in the important field of ‘single cell analysis’, as well as find use in medical diagnosis, drug transport and screening, surgery, and environmental protection.

The innovative technology was developed by Prof. Gilad Yossifon from the School of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tel Aviv University and his team: Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Yue Wu and student Sivan Yakov, in collaboration with Dr. Afu Fu, Post-doctoral researcher, from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. The research was published in the journal Advanced Science.

Prof. Gilad Yossifon explains that micro-robots (sometimes called micro-motors or active particles) are tiny synthetic particles the size of a biological cell, which can move from place to place and perform various actions (for example: collection of synthetic or biological cargo) autonomously or through external control by an operator. According to Prof. Yossifon, “developing the micro-robot’s ability to move autonomously was inspired by biological micro-swimmers, such as bacteria and sperm cells. This is an innovative area of research that is developing rapidly, with a wide variety of uses in fields such as medicine and the environment, as well as a research tool.”

As a demonstration of the capabilities of the micro-robot the researchers used it to capture single blood and cancer cells and a single bacterium, and showed that it is able to distinguish between cells with different levels of viability, such as a healthy cell, a cell damaged by a drug, or a cell that is dying or dying in a natural ‘suicide’ process (such a distinction may be significant, for example, when developing anti-cancer drugs). After identifying the desired cell, the micro-robot captured it and moved the cell to where it could be further analyzed. Another important innovation is the ability of the micro-robot to identify target cells that are not labeled – the micro-robot identifies the type of cell and its condition (such as degree of health) using a built-in sensing mechanism based on the cell’s unique electrical properties.

The researchers explain that the hybrid propulsion mechanism of the micro-robot is of particular importance in physiological environments, such as found in liquid biopsies

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