Brain repairs with nanorobots

Magnetic nanorobots delivering nerve cells to targeted tissues could potentially be used to repair damaged brain tissue, as well as other organs.

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Researchers have found that nerve cells, carried by magnetically powered nanorobots, can be guided towards specific sites in brain tissue to then establish structural and functional connections with the nerve cells of that tissue. While not yet realised in living organisms, the researchers believe their nanorobotic system could potentially be used in patients to treat nerve-related degenerative diseases and injuries. They describe their findings in the journal Advanced Materials.

In the study, a magnetic neurospheroid (Mag-Neurobot), which is made up of magnetic nanorobots carrying live nerve cells (neurons), was introduced into a slice of brain tissue and then magnetically guided to a precise location within that tissue using an external magnetic field. 

Once in place, the manoeuvred neurons were able to establish a direct connection with the targeted brain cells by connecting to their synapses, the area at which neurons connect and communicate with each other and with other cells.“

Our work demonstrates the precise delivery of healthy and functional neurons to a target tissue,” says Hongsoo Choi, a corresponding author of the study. “This is exactly what is required to achieve the reconstruction of damaged brain circuits.”

Using microscopy analysis and through the recording of electrical signals from the Mag-Neurobot connected with brain tissue, the researchers confirmed the magnetically delivered neurons were functionally connected to the targeted brain cells.

The magnetic control system surrounding a tissue slice in the central petri dish precisely controls the Mag-Neurobot’s location.

“We found the intervention of the Mag-Neurobot and the cells it delivered did not alter the normal function of the tissue they were added into,” says Jong-Cheol Rah, another corresponding author of the study. “This is important for any safe use of the technology in patients.” 

The researchers believe there are other clinical and research applications beyond the direct repair or regeneration of brain circuits. Potential uses include sending regenerative stem cells to different organs, like the heart, and delivering drugs to specific tissues to test their effectiveness or potential side effects.

The team plans to conduct additional studies to determine if the neurons delivered by the Mag-Neurobot can remain healthy for the extended period of time needed for structural and functional tissue repair.

“We have a long road ahead of us before Mag-Neurobots can be used in patients, but we have taken the important preliminary steps,” concludes Choi. 

The research was a collaboration between teams in South Korea at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST), led by Choi, a robotics and mechatronics engineer, and at Korea Brain Research Institute, led by Rah, a neurophysiologist. Important input also came from Eunhee Kim, who was a Ph.D student (currently a principal researcher at IMsystem Co., Ltd) and the first author of the paper.

Further information 

Prof Dr Hongsoo Choi
[email protected] 
Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology 

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