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Cancer-fighting robots could be on their way

Cancer-fighting robots could be on their way

Cancer-fighting robots may seem like the stuff of sci-fi heaven, but German scientists could soon make them a reality.

A team from Philips Innovative Technologies in Hamburg has created an army of magnetically-controlled robots which can help the body fight off diseases like cancer.

Over the past 10 years more and more research has been done into manipulating magnetic forces to guide medical devices inside the body. The latest discovery is being able to control each robot to perform specific and unique tasks.

“Our method may enable complex manipulations inside the human body," enthused lead author Jürgen Rahmer.

The manipulation was possible after scientists used magnetic screws within the robots, freezing groups of the screws with a strong, uniform magnetic field. Weak spots were left by the team inside the magnetic field, which allowed the screws to spin around and in turn allowed scientists to attach moveable limbs to the screws which can be controlled independently.

The team noted that in principle, they could manipulate hundreds of microscopic robots at once.

"One could think of screw-driven mechanisms that perform tasks inside the human body without the need for batteries or motors," Rahmer told Live Science.

There are a few ways these magnetic screws could be used by doctors, the first being inside injectable microscopic pills. Doctors could make certain screws spin to open the pill, making sure the treatment only targets tumours and not healthy tissue.

Another possible method is medical implants that change over time.

“For instance, as people heal, magnetic fields could help alter the shape of implants to better adjust to the bodies of patients,” Rahmer said.

The research has been published in journal Science Robotics.

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