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New Scientist: Self-directed microspider could repair blood vessels


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Self-directed microspider could repair blood vessels

A new spider-like micromachine could swim through a person's blood vessels, healing damaged areas and delivering drugs as it goes.

Ayusman Sen of Pennsylvania State University in University Park and his colleagues have created the self-propelling microspiders using spheres less than a micrometre wide. Each sphere is made up of two halves – one hemisphere is gold, the other silica – and looks like a gold-and-silver Christmas bauble.

To turn the spheres into motors, the group attached a Grubbs catalyst – a molecule that builds long chains of smaller molecules – to the silica side. When Sen drops his spheres into a solvent containing the chemical norbornene, the catalyst spins a polymer from molecules of the chemical. Eventually there are far more unpolymerised single molecules of norbornene around the gold side of the sphere than the silica side , creating an osmotic gradient, as fluids will always move from a region with lots of particles to a region with fewer particles. The solvent rushes toward the gold side of the sphere, causing the whole sphere to move.

Sen's group were able to control the direction of the spheres' movement by placing lumps of gel soaked in norbornene at one corner of the tank of solvent. The thread-spinning spheres followed the trail of leached norbornene towards the gels.

Next, Sen hopes to develop versions of these tiny aquatic spiders that run on chemicals readily available in the body, such as glucose.

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For a number of years now I have been saying that the future of scientific advancement in neurobiology, computing, nanotechnology, and genetics, including most significantly in combination, will lead to such radical changes in the human condition in more ways than can be imagined.

It is one thing that makes me wish I could live another 100 years. I predict it will so dramatically revamp not only our lives as we know them on a day to day level, but do the same with so many our perceptions and experience of existence. It will dwarf the changes from 1811 to 2011 in just the next 50 years.

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