‘Origami pacman’ tech could help drug firms handle single-cells, say researchers

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

iStock/Paul-Daniel Florea
iStock/Paul-Daniel Florea

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Researchers at US-based North Carolina State University and Duke University have developed a ‘microbot’ which they say could capture and transport single-cells for drug production.

In an article published in Science Advances​ on August 4, the researchers describe how the microbots, configured of microcube structures, can perform microscale operations such as capturing and transporting live cells.

“These structures can be directionally moved, steered, and manoeuvred by global forces from external magnetic fields,” ​the researchers explained.

Orlin Velev, INVISTA professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State said the cubes have been likened to origami.

“Depending on their positioning, the cubes can be assembled in many different ways. One of the representative types is ‘microbot Pac-Mac origami’ which can open, close, and move on demand in response to external magnetic fields,” ​he told us.

Single-cell focus

Velev said the technology could be used by drug makers to capture and transport single-cells.

“This technology could create a new ‘platform’ for targeted single-cell isolation and targeted drug synthesis/delivery/therapy.”

“The microbots have the ability to selectively capture and transport a single-cell. For example, they could be used to sort out a specific cancer cell out of mixed systems and transport drug components to a target location,” ​he told us.

Although not the main focus of the research, Velev acknowledged that the technology's ability to manipulate cells has application in both biopharmaceutical production and development.

Low cost

Velev said the technology is potentially less expensive than other cell manipulation technologies on the market.

“It’s very cheap. You just need to use conventional photolithography followed by metal evaporation technique to fabricate the microbot building blocks. Then, you can assemble and control the microbots using any types of magnets.”

“Although this technology is still in its early stages, we believe that our microbots can replace existing, expensive micro-manipulators,” ​said Velev. 

Related topics Bio Developments

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