A prototype set of nanobots is currently being developed that could one day detect disease in humans.

These tiny robots are being developed to mimick living creatures.

According to the article, the minute devices are called “Cyberplasm” and will be able to join together advanced microelectronics with cutting edge biomimicry (technology inspired by nature) research.

The goal of this project is for the Cyberplasm to actually have something that resembles an electronic electronic nervous system. It will be complete with an ‘eye’ and a ‘nose’ which are sensors derived from mammalian cells. The Cyberplasm will also have artificial muscles that use glucose as an energy source to propel it.

These components will come together to create something that is capable of responding to light and chemicals in the same way as biological systems do.

“Cyberplasm is being developed over the next few years as part of an international collaboration funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA. The UK-based work is taking place at Newcastle University. The project originated from a ‘sandpit’ (idea gathering session) on synthetic biology jointly funded by the two organisations. Cyberplasm will be designed to mimic key functions of the sea lamprey, a creature found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed this approach will enable the micro-robot to be extremely sensitive and responsive to the environment it is put into. Future uses could include the ability to swim unobtrusively through the human body to detect a whole range of diseases.”

The Cyberplasm team includes:

  • Professor Joseph Ayers, Northeastern University, USA (animal robots expert)
  • Professor Vlad Parpura, University of Alabama, USA (neuroscientist)
  • Professor Chris Voigt, MIT, USA (synthetic biologist)
  • Dr Daniel Frankel, Newcastle University (bioengineer)

Additionally, the prototype being developed is less than 1mm thick with the objective being to get that size down to the nano scale. Dr Daniel Frankel explains,

“Nothing matches a living creature’s natural ability to see and smell its environment and therefore to collect data on what’s going on around it.”

Like a simple organism, the Cyberplasm’s nose and eye sensors will respond to external stimuli by converting inputs into electronic impulses that are sent to a central, electronic ‘brain’ equipped with sophisticated microchips. From there, the artificial brain will electronically send the appropriate message to the artificial muscles dictating how and when to contract and relax, thus creating motion.

The healthcare implications of such a device are broad. If Cyberplasm can be trained to detect certain diseases such as cancer, it may be able to pinpoint where a specific tumor is, which will aid clinicians. These nanobots could potentially target other diseases and deliver targeted drug therapy as well. One immediate implication relates to prostethics that include artificial muscle tissue.

“Cyberplasm could also represent the first step on the road to important advances in, for example, advanced prosthetics where living muscle tissue might be engineered to contract and relax in response to stimulation from light waves or electronic signals.”

Source: Press Release