A suite of tools is under development by researchers from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist Hospital to expand the role of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in noninvasive or minimally invasive treatment.
Armed with a $608,000 Synergy Award from the National Science Foundation, the researchers will develop technology that uses MRI scanner magnetic fields to both image and steer millimeter-sized robots through the body. The project involves establishing control algorithms, imaging technology, ultrafast computational methods, and human-machine immersion methods.
The researchers envision deploying swarms of microsurgeons – or milli-robots – to deliver drugs or a self-assembled interventional tool.
While current mini-robot prototype models are up to 2 cm, the goal is robots that range from 0.5-2 mm. MRI technology provides enough magnetic force to steer the robots through the body’s blood vessels but can’t penetrate tumors or other tissue. Two designs, both powered by the MRI scanner, are being tested to address that problem. One is based on the principle of mechanical resonance and the second is modeled after a self-assembling surgical tool, a Gauss gun (see video).