Future Tense

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Technology: Tetherless thermobiochemically actuated microgripper

Manufacturer: In testing phase at Johns Hopkins University

Purpose: Performing biopsylike procedures in hard-to-reach places

How it works: The grippers are approximately 0.1 mm in diameter, have six fingers with three joints each, and are made of gold-plated nickel that is biocompatible, visible with medical imaging units such as an MRI or CT, and can be steered by magnets outside of the body. The grippers can extricate cells from tissue when activated by certain biochemicals or biologically relevant temperatures. For example, raising the temperature to 104 degrees Fahrenheit softens a special polymer coating on the gripper, causing the fingers to bend and clamp down a minuscule object. Biological solutions can also degrade the polymer coating.

Potential Improvement: Today, when physicians want to collect cells or manipulate tissue inside a patient's body they use microgrippers that are connected to thin wires or tubes. Using untethered grippers would enable physicians to navigate complex areas of the body and move a relatively long distance without getting stuck.

What's Next: Researchers are using a $1.5 million NIH grant for testing and development.

Carrie Vaughan

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