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Unclogging arteries with one professor’s micro-bots | The Triangle

Unclogging arteries with one professor’s micro-bots

Drexel’s Biological Actuation, Sensing and Transport Laboratory under head researcher MinJun Kim is now joining forces with an international research coalition led by the South Korean Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology. The research team includes 11 worldwide research labs led by the Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technologies, which has put $18 million into the research. Drexel University is the only United States research team to enter the collaboration.

Through BAST Labs cooperation, the research of Kim and his doctorate student, now post-doctoral U Kei Cheang will be added to the global initiative led by DGIST. Their research focuses on using magnetic nanoparticles that can be remotely controlled through the manipulation of an external magnetic field. According to the research paper published by Kim and Cheang in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research, the objective of MPNs is to “particulate drug delivery by providing high accuracy at extremely small scales.” Now that the researchers have partnered with the global effort, another goal has emerged — there is now hope that these MNPs may be used for minimally invasive heart surgeries to clear out clogged arteries. Procedures in place now include angioplasties and the use of stents to solve these problems. However, minimally invasive use of the MNPs may provide more accuracy as well as a shorter recovery time according to Kim, quoted in a DrexelNow article.

The nanoparticles are essentially small magnetic spheres made of iron oxide that can join together in aggregates or in parallel chains. The materials making up the MNPs are degradable by the body over time, making them safe to use in surgery settings. In fluid systems, they may “swim” by rotating under the magnetic field’s influence in a spiral pattern. The spiraled movements propels the chains of MNPs along in a path. The movement is similar to spirillum bacteria and how they move throughout the body in the bloodstream.

Cheang spoke at length about the project through an email, detailing the team’s work thus far. Cheang has been on Kim’s research team for the past four years and became inspired by Kim’s work when he first joined. He noted that Kim had been initially been inspired by science fiction shows and movies, seeing the amazing use of micro and nanoscale technology in fantastical settings. Cheang wrote that as micro and nano-scale technology matures over time, “the ideas in those stories can finally be realized.”

Cheang also detailed what the research as a part of the global project will look like going forward. The team plans to “develop the core technologies which includes … the development of micro-robots, precision control systems and imaging systems. As we move forward, we will examine the applications of the core technologies and then go into system integration and prototyping. Finally, we will perform animal testing.” These goals are projected to be accomplished sometime within the next four years by DGIST.

The work cut out for the entire global team is sizeable and still very new to the world of micro and nanoparticle research, but the Drexel representatives seem excited. When asked about his biggest hope for the research project, Cheang responded, “This research is still in its infancy. We are currently working on laying the groundwork for future breakthroughs.”