Starfish Shaped Microbots Could Perform Biopsies in Your Colon

Posted on June 14, 2015

Vial of dust-stized microgrippers

Researchers from John Hopkins University have created tiny starfish shaped microbots that could one day perform biopsies in your colon. The dust-sized robots resemble little ninja throwing stars. John Hopkins calls them "mu-grippers" using the Greek letter for the term micro. Hundreds or thousands of the tiny untethered microgrippers could be released in a human colon to collect tiny pieces of tissue.

The tiny biopsy bots were first announced by John Hopkins in 2013 but have resurfaced in an IEEE Spectrum report about medical microbots. The John Hopkins microbots are about the size of dust particles. A vial containing dozens of the bots is pictured above. The image below compares the size of one of the microbots to the standard steel forceps currently used for biopsies.

Microgripper robot compared to steel forcepts

The grippers are inserted into the biopsy area using an endoscopy tool. The microgrippers operate independently once deposited. They are magnetic so they can be grabbed using a magnetic tool once they have collected tiny bits of tissue.

An NPR report describes a test of the microgrippers on a pig's bile duct. Scientists were unable to retrieve a few of the microgrippers in the test. NPR says scientists aren't concerned microgrippers that getting left behind would necessarily be a problem in the colon as they should eventually pass out naturally.

Here is a video of the microgrippers in action:

Photos: Evin Gultepe, Gracias Lab