An international team of scientists has developed a nano-scale robot that can 'drill' into the tissue of an eye without damaging it.
The robot, which is shaped like a propeller, is just 500nm wide and covered with a non-stick coating, enabling it to slip through the dense tissue of the eye and move around freely. A tiny amount of magnetic material means it can be steered from outside the body using magnetic fields.
Looking to nature
The researchers compared the tissue matrix inside the eye to a web of double-sided sticky tape. To avoid the nanopropeller getting stuck, they developed a special two-part coating: a layer of molecules bound to the propeller's surface, and a slippery non-stick finish.
“For the coating we look to nature for inspiration,” said Dr Zhiguang Wu, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. “In the second step, we applied a liquid layer found on the carnivorous pitcher plant, which has a slippery surface on the peristome to catch insects. It is like the Teflon coating of a frying pan.
"This slippery coating is crucial for the efficient propulsion of our robots inside the eye, as it minimizes the adhesion between the biological protein network in the vitreous and the surface of our nanorobots."
Ultimately, the researchers hope that a swarm of the nanobots could be loaded with medication, and used to deliver it precisely where it's needed.