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Treating the human brain with the help of micro-robots is the bet launched by Bionaut Labs, a California start-up. A journey straight out of science fiction that would revolutionize medicine.
Send a miniature robot to the human brain to cure it? What a few decades ago was science fiction could quickly become a reality, says the founder Bionaut Labs. This California start-up plans to launch its first clinical trials in two years.
From science fiction to reality
“The idea of the microrobot dates back to before I was born. One of the most famous examples is a film called Le Voyage Fantastique, in which a team of scientists board a miniaturized ship to enter the brain and absorb a blood clot. blood “points out Michael Shpigelmacher, CEO of Bionaut Labs.
“On your mobile phone you have a lot of extremely accurate and extremely sophisticated microscopic devices that are smaller than a grain of rice.”says this trained roboticist, who has worked in artificial intelligence and consumer electronics.
“What was science fiction in the 60’s is now a science fact (…) We want to take this old idea and make it a reality”assures theAFP the 53 – year – old scientist, during a visit to the research and development center of Bionaut Labs to Los Angeles.
Result of a partnership with the prestigious German research institute Max Planckthe startup is experimenting with remotely controlled injectable micro-robots using magnetic energy.
There are other techniques, such as optical or ultrasonic testing, but magnetic energy has the merit of being simple and not interfering with the human body, explains Mr. Shpigelmacher.
Unlike an MRI, the device is easily transportable and consumes between ten and one hundred times less electricity.
Magnetic coils, placed outside the patient’s skull and a computer, are sufficient to remotely guide a microrobot to the brain, as shown by a simulation performed for the brain.AFP.
The sequence begins and, following a pre-programmed trajectory, the robot – a metal cylinder a few millimeters long to which a powerful neodymium magnet has been integrated – begins to evolve into ice reproducing the brain.
The machine is placed under a pocket full of a blue liquid and then, propelled like a rocket, suddenly pierces it with its pointed end, allowing the liquid to come out of the pocket.
The robot can then be extracted following the same path.
When Bionaut Labs will have started his first clinical trials, this is exactly what should allow to break the cysts full of cerebrospinal fluid caused in the brain by Dandy-Walker malformation, a rare congenital disease that affects children.
These cysts, which can grow to the size of a golf ball, swell and increase blood pressure, causing a number of serious disorders.
Another possible trajectory with robots
Bionaut Labs has already tested its robots in specialized laboratories “In large animals, sheep and pigs. And the data show that technology is safe for humans”says Michael Shpigelmacher.
“Most current brain surgeries are limited to the straight line. If you can’t reach the target in a straight line, you’re stuck.”says Mr. Shpigelmacher.
Injectable robots “Make it possible to achieve goals that would otherwise be inaccessible, following the safest path possible”.
Thanks to these promising first results, the startup has already obtained permission from the American Medicines Agency (FDA) to experiment with its method for patients suffering from Dandy Walker syndrome but also malignant glioma, a cancerous brain tumor. considered incurable.
In the latter case, the microrobot will be equipped with a receptacle containing an anticancer treatment and will travel to the tumor to deposit its drug load.
A “surgical strike” where currently available techniques simply bombard the whole body, with a loss of effectiveness and many adverse effects, explains Mr. Shpigelmacher.
“And since we’re a robot, we can complete the circle and take measurements, take tissue samples.”the head of Bionaut Labswhich has about thirty employees and continues to hire.
Bionaut Labs is already in discussions with partners for the treatment of other diseases that affect the brain, such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy or stroke.
“To my knowledge, we are the first commercial attempt to design” such a product “But I don’t think we’ll be left alone”says Michael Shpigelmacher, because academic research is very active “about fifteen teams” currently working on the topic.