An ‘origami robot’ that can be swallowed in a pill and then sent on missions inside the body promises a revolution in internal treatment of the digestive system, scientists have claimed.
A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sheffield University, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology trialed the fold-up device in a mock stomach and found it was able to dislodge and remove foreign objects such as batteries.
The researchers also believe the robot can be modified to deliver drugs and also perform targeted surgery in otherwise inaccessible regions of stomach and gut.
The device folds into a pill made of ice, swallowed and then unfolds in the stomach once the pill casing melts.
Once extended, the robot rolls around the stomach lining by means of a ‘stick-slip’ motion, controlled by magnetic fields from outside the body.
Approximately 3,500 batteries are accidentally swallowed in the US each year, according to the research team, equivalent to about ten each day.
While the batteries are frequently digested normally, if they come into prolonged contact with the tissue of the oesophagus or stomach, they can cause an electric current that produces hydroxide and burns a hole in the tissue.
Small and circular lithium batteries are a particular risk for small children, as they can be easily swallowed accidentally.While the NHS holds no specific figures on the number of UK cases, swallowing batteries is known to have caused the deaths of some children.In trials conducted by the MIT-led team, the origami robot rolled towards the lithium battery before attaching itself.With the help of external magnet, the robot was then able to drag the battery away.
The scientists say the robot, and any foreign objects it is tasked with removing, can leave the body by being dragged towards the gut and then passing naturally.
Professor Rus said she was initially sceptical about the importance of ensuring the robot could remove batteries until Shuhei Miyashita, now a lecturer at York University, gave her crude demonstration.
The robot is made from the same type of dried pig intestine used in sausage casings.
Professor Rus said the ultimate aim was to develop sensors on the device so it could perform tasks automatically, without the need for an external controller.
Dr Miyashita said the next stage would be to test the origami robot in the stomachs of animals such as cows before moving on to human trials.
It is hoped the device will be available for clinical use in six to eight years, he said.
According to telegragh