Eye, Robot: Fascinating video shows tiny robots swimming through an eyeball to deliver medicines in move that could one day replace eye drops
- Scientists led by experts in Germany have invented 'micropropellors' for the eye
- The robots are 200 times smaller than the width of a human hair and have tails
- They are magnetic and can be 'driven' through the eye to deliver medications
- Experts say they could be quicker and more accurate than injections or drops
It's a far cry from robots trying to take over the world in the 2004 Will Smith film I, Robot.
But now scientists claim actual eye robots could one day be used to deliver drugs in human eyes to prevent blindness.
Fascinating footage shows miniscule machines driving through the eye and carrying medication directly where it needs to go.
The devices, called micropropellors, are 200 times smaller than the width of a human hair and use spiral tails to spin through the eye's jelly.
Experts, who have only tested the microrobots on dead pigs' eyes, say they could be more effective and faster than using eye drops or injections.
And thousands of them could be released into the eyeball at a time then guided to the retina at the back of eye in less than 30 minutes.
Scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Germany used 3D printing to create the drug delivery micropropellors, Science reports.
Shaped similarly to a tadpole with a coiled, spinning tail, the robots are covered in a slippery coating which means they can slide harmlessly through the eyeball.
They would be filled with a medication – such as drugs needed to treat glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy – and could deliver them directly to where they're needed.
Experts say this would be more effective than injections and eye drops, which coat the entire eyeball in the drug and take far longer for it to reach the back of the eye.
The robots could twirl their way through the vitreous humour – a clear, jelly-like substance behind the white of your eye which makes up 80 per cent of the organ.
Intravitreal injections or eye drops are the current techniques most commonly used and are both effective but rely on medication gradually seeping to where it's needed.
Common diseases requiring injections into the eye include age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD), eye damage caused by diabetes, blocked blood vessels in the eye, and abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye.
The tiny robots would still need to be injected but they would not cover the whole eye and could be directed straight at the source of the problem.
The tiny micropropellor robots (pictured, the tiny dark specks are robots moving through the vitreous humour in the eyeball) contain metal and are moved around inside the eye using a magnetic field
Currently made of nickel and pulled through the eye using a magnetic field created from outside the body, the robots have not yet been trialled on living creatures.
Scientists' trials were done on pigs' eyes collected from a slaughterhouse – the robots must now be tested on live animals before being used in humans.
Research found they passed through the eye 10 times faster than particles of a similar size.
And controlling the robots using magnets means medics could have enough control to drive them forwards, backwards, left or right, while watching them on a live scan to see where they're going.
The research was published in the journal Science Advances.
RE-PURPOSING EYE CELLS COULD REVERSE BLINDNESS
For the first time ever, scientists have restored sight to blind mice by turning different cells in the retina into seeing ones, a study has revealed.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have reversed blindness in mice by using a gene injection to 'reprogram' maintenance neurons into rods and cones, the eyes' light-receptive structures.
Over two million people in the UK live with sight loss and, in 2014, around 350,000 of those were registered as blind or partially sighted.
Nearly three million Americans have poor vision, and another 1.3 million are completely blind.
If the newly-developed treatment proves successful in humans, it could give many people back their vision.
Our cells are constantly dying and being replaced by new ones but, as we age, the rate at which cells die speeds up and replacement slows down.
But nerve cells are not particularly good at regenerating, and that includes light-sensitive photoreceptor cells.
This group of highly-specialized neurons in the retina, which wraps around the back of the eye is made up primarily of rods and cones.
Rods pick up on images in low light, while cones are sensitive to fine detail and color.
'Rods allow us to see in low light, but they may also help preserve cone photoreceptors, which are important for color vision and high visual acuity,' explained study co-author Dr Thomas Greenwell.
'Cones tend to die in later-stage eye diseases. If rods can be regenerated from inside the eye, this might be a strategy for treating diseases of the eye that affect photoreceptors.'
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