These “Bio-Bots” are Made from Human Cells and May Revolutionize Medicine

By: Georgia McKoy | Published: Jan 12, 2024

The field of medicine is witnessing a groundbreaking development with the advent of “biobots”, microscopic robots made from human cells. 

No larger than the head of a sharpened pencil, these biobots represent a new frontier in medical technology, bridging the gap between nanotechnology and traditional medical devices. Their potential impact on healthcare is significant, offering precise treatment options for a range of medical issues.

The Significance of Miniaturization in Medicine

The creation of biobots highlights the importance of targeting minute areas within the human body. Small-scale problems can lead to significant health issues, necessitating the development of tools that can operate at a micro level. 

A close-up image of a laboratory scene showing a pipette dispensing a pink substance into one of many clear, cylindrical test tubes arranged neatly in a blue rack

Source: Louis Reed/Unsplash

In the journal Advanced Science, Harvard biologists Mark Levin and his team explain the potential of small-scale interventions in effectively addressing medical challenges.

Anthrobots: Multicellular Robotic Innovations

The research in Advance Science details how Harvard biologists have developed a new type of multicellular robot called “Anthrobots”, derived from human tracheal cells.

An image showcasing a spherical cell with a complex network of interlinking patches in vibrant colors of yellow, orange, red, and purple against a stark black background

Source: Gizem Gumuskaya/ Tufts University

These biobots have been tested in laboratory settings where they successfully healed a simulated wound. This achievement showcases the potential of Anthrobots in medical applications, opening doors to new therapeutic methods.

From Science Fiction to Medical Reality

The study describes how Anthrobots, ranging in size from 30 to 500 micrometers, signify a leap from science fiction to practical medical application.

A person in a laboratory setting, wearing blue latex gloves, draws a liquid into a syringe from a small vial. The scene includes a tray with a bottle of medication and additional medical supplies, with test tubes held in a rack in the background

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

Unlike fictional robots, they are made from biological cells instead of metal and electronics.

The Composition and Lifecycle of Biobots

Anthrobots start as a single cell covered in cilia, resembling hair. These cilia are crucial for their movement and functionality. 

A black and white electron microscope image displaying a cluster of both ciliated and nonciliated cells.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the lab, these Anthrobots naturally biodegrade after a period, showing their self-sustaining and environmentally friendly nature. This life cycle is a remarkable feature of these biobots.

The Healing Mechanism of Biobots

Mark Levin, in a press statement, expressed his fascination with the healing capabilities of Anthrobots: “It is fascinating and completely unexpected that normal patient tracheal cells, without modifying their DNA, can move on their own and encourage neuron growth across a region of damage.” 

An over-the-shoulder view of a scientist with gray hair, dressed in a lab coat and blue gloves, operating an electron microscope. The individual is meticulously adjusting a specimen on the microscope stage

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

This natural healing process highlights the therapeutic potential of biobots.


Experimentation and Findings on Neuron Growth

In the study, Levin and Harvard PhD student Gizem Gumuskaya created a 2D layer of human neurons and simulated a wound. 

Fluorescent microscopy image displaying a network of neurons. The neurons are highlighted in bright teal against a dark background, with numerous interconnected branches and nodes that create a complex web

Source: Wikimedia Commons

They introduced Anthrobots to the wound, where these biobots triggered neuron growth, essentially healing the simulated wound. This experiment provided significant insights into the healing capabilities of biobots.


Advancements Beyond Xenobots

Anthrobots represent an advancement over previous models like xenobots.

An assortment of stainless steel surgical instruments laid out on a blue sterile cloth. The tools include scissors, forceps, scalpel handles, and needles

Source: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

As Gizem Gumuskaya stated in a press release, “Unlike Xenobots, they don’t require tweezers or scalpels to give them shape… It’s fully scalable—we can produce swarms of these bots in parallel, which is a good start for developing a therapeutic tool.”


Potential Applications in Medicine

The successful healing of artificial wounds in laboratory settings is just the beginning for Anthrobots. 

Two surgeons in green scrubs are bent over a patient in an operating room, focusing intently on the procedure at hand. They wear surgical caps and masks

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Their future development could lead to applications in clearing arterial plaque, repairing spinal cord damage, and other medical treatments. Their small size makes them ideal for these precise therapeutic applications.


Targeted Cancer Treatment Possibilities

The potential of Anthrobots in the fight against cancer is particularly promising. 

A focused researcher, wearing a dark blue lab coat and purple gloves, handles a pipette and a test tube

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

Their ability to deliver drugs directly to targeted cells could revolutionize cancer treatment, offering a more efficient and targeted approach to battling this disease.


Scalability and Production of Biobots

The scalability of Anthrobot production is a key advantage.

Close-up of an automated multi-channel pipetting system dispensing samples into a series of clear, open-topped tubes arranged neatly in a holder. The precision tips of the pipettors are aligned directly above the tubes

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

As Gizem Gumuskaya highlighted in a press release, the ability to produce these biobots in large numbers simultaneously offers a significant step forward in developing them as therapeutic tools. This scalability is crucial for their widespread application in medicine.


Thoughts on the Future of Biobots

Anthrobots represent a significant innovation in the field of medicine. Their development marks the beginning of a new era in medical treatment, offering precise, targeted, and scalable solutions for various health issues. 

A surgeon in blue scrubs, wearing a surgical mask, cap, and gloves, is concentrating on a procedure out of frame. The surgeon's gaze is directed downward, presumably at the patient, with a bright surgical light overhead illuminating the operating area

Source: Artur Tumasjan/Unsplash

As research and development continue, the potential applications and benefits of these biobots in healthcare are vast and promising.