Microrobot Developed for Delivery of Stem Cells to the Brain

Researchers from Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) in South Korea have developed a new microrobot that can precisely deliver therapeutic cells to very specific parts of the brain. Their work, recently published in Science Robotics, demonstrates that neural stem cells can be cultured and differentiated on their robot and that the device can travel from the carotid artery into various parts of the brain. This development may one day provide an approach for treating a number of brain-related disorders.

Delivery of living cells into the brain has been challenging, due to rapid loss of transplanted stem cells, and risks related to injecting directly into the brain. To address these problems, the Korean researchers developed a non-invasively controlled microrobot, which can travel through the blood stream and deliver the cells precisely into brain tissue.

The device is fabricated using 3D laser lithography, and is designed to have a helical shape to travel through the body more easily. It can be manipulated by a magnet, allowing the researchers to move it through the body non-invasively using an external magnetic field. The device is also porous, which helps the attachment and proliferation of the stem cells.

Two of the major experiments the researchers demonstrated was that they could culture hippocampal neural stem cells on the microrobot, and guide them to differentiate into various neural cell types. They also demonstrated, in a cadaveric rat brain, that they can use a magnetic field to guide the microrobot through the various arteries of the brain, to deliver the cells in precisely the right area.

In a press release, Professor Hongsoo Choi, who was involved in the research, said “Through this research we hope to increase the treatment efficiency and success rate for Alzheimer and central neural diseases, which couldn’t be approached through the existing method of stem cell treatment. Through continuous follow-up research with hospitals and related companies, we will do our best to develop a microrobot-based precise treatment system that can be used in actual hospital and clinical sites.”

The study in Science Robotics: Magnetically actuated microrobots as a platform for stem cell transplantation