A team of researchers led by Dr Jinyao Tang of the Department of Chemistry, the University of Hong Kong, has developed the world’s first light-seeking synthetic Nano robot. With size comparable to a blood cell, those tiny robots have the potential to be injected into patients’ bodies, helping surgeons to remove tumors and enabling more precise engineering of targeted medications.
The findings have been published in October earlier in leading scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology.
It has been a dream in science fiction for decades that tiny robots can fundamentally change our daily life. The famous science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage” is a very good example, with a group of scientists driving their miniaturized Nano-submarine inside human body to repair a damaged brain. In the film “Terminator 2”, billions of Nanorobots were assembled into the amazing shapeshifting body: the T-1000. In the real world, it is quite challenging to make and design a sophisticated Nano robot with advanced functions.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 was awarded to three scientists for “the design and synthesis of molecular machines”. They developed a set of mechanical components at molecular scale which may be assembled into more complicated Nano machines to manipulate single molecule such as DNA or proteins in the future. The development of tiny nanoscale machines for biomedical applications has been a major trend of scientific research in recent years. Any breakthroughs will potentially open the door to new knowledge and treatments of diseases and development of new drugs.
One difficulty in Nanorobot design is to make these nanostructures sense and respond to the environment. Given each Nanorobot is only a few micrometer in size which is ~50 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, it is very difficult to squeeze normal electronic sensors and circuits into Nanorobots with reasonable price. Currently, the only method to remotely control Nanorobots is to incorporate tiny magnetic inside the Nanorobot and guide the motion via external magnetic field.
The Nanorobot developed by Dr Tang’s team use light as the propelling force, and is the first research team globally to explore the light-guided Nanorobot and demonstrate its feasibility and effectiveness. In their paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, Dr Tang’s team demonstrated the unprecedented ability of these light-controlled Nanorobots as they are “dancing” or even spell a word under light control. With a novel Nanotree structure, the Nanorobots can respond to the light shining on it like moths being drawn to flames. Dr Tang described the motions as if “they can “see” the light and drive itself towards it”.
The team gained inspiration from natural green algae for the Nanorobot design. In nature, some green algae have evolved with the ability of sensing light around it. Even just a single cell, these green algae can sense the intensity of light and swim towards the light source for photosynthesis. Dr Jinyao Tang’s team spent three years to successfully develop the Nanorobots. With a novel Nanotree structure, they are composed of two common and low-price semiconductor materials: silicon and titanium oxide. During the synthesis, silicon and titanium oxide are shaped into nanowire and then further arranged into a tiny Nanotree heterostructure.
Dr Tang said: “Although the current Nanorobot cannot be used for disease treatment yet, we are working on the next generation nanorobotic system which is more efficient and biocompatible.”
“Light is a more effective option to communicate between microscopic world and macroscopic world. We can conceive that more complicated instructions can be sent to Nanorobots which provide scientists with a new tool to further develop more functions into Nanorobot and get us one step closer to daily life applications,” he added.
The University of Hong Kong (informally known as HKU or Hong Kong University) is a public research university located in Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong.
Founded in 1911 during the British Colonial era, it is the oldest tertiary institution in Hong Kong. The university was originally established in order to compete with other Great Powers that had opened higher learning institutions in China at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, established in 1887, evolved to be the medical faculty, one of its first three faculties alongside Arts and Engineering. Academic life at the university was disrupted by the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong; however, following the end of the Second World War, the university underwent expansion with the founding of further departments and faculties.
Today HKU has 10 faculties with international students comprising around 24% of the student population. It exhibits strength in scholarly research and teaching of humanities, law, political sciences, biological sciences and medicine. It was the first team in the world which successfully isolated the corona virus, the causative agent of SARS, and has the most Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Engineering (15) of any institution of the territory. The language of instruction is English, except when learning a particular language is an objective of the course.
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CUHK Successfully Performed Hong Kong’s First Robotic Endoscopic Scarless Surgery – A Major Endoscopic Technological Breakthrough
The Chinese University of Hong Kong announced on Dec. 15 that it has achieved a major technological breakthrough and completed the world first human case series of robotic-assisted endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD), which treats early gastric cancer.
CUHK Professor Philip Waiyan Chiu said on Dec. 15 that conventional treatment for gastric neoplasia involves resection and anastomosis (removing a diseased section of the intestine and sewing it shut), and carries certain risks of morbidity and mortality, while ESD is a new and effective technique for treatment of early stomach tumor.
Yet the major difficulty in performing ESD is that the design of traditional endoscope allows only single degree movements. Yet the newly designed robotic arms, set up jointly by CUHK, National University of Singapore, and Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, can be attached to the ordinary endoscopes to facilitate the performance of complex endoscopic surgery by extending the degree of movement through the two robotic arms.
Currently there are only five cases of robotic-assisted ESD performed in humans worldwide. CUHK performed the first two cases of robotic-assisted ESD for the treatment of early gastric neoplasia in Hong Kong.
CUHK said robotic-assisted ESD effectively reduces bleeding and infections and shortens the operation time. The two operations were successfully performed under general anesthesia, and the operation time was only 50 minutes for the first and 16 minutes for the second.
The researchers said that the new technology remains at the experimental stage; they hope it will be applied to clinical practice in five years. The researchers are also hoping to apply the robotic-assisted ESD technology to colon and rectal surgeries.