The possibilities of 3D printing are expanding every day as researchers, scientists, and your next-door neighbor think of new, creative uses for the technology. While it’s nowhere near the Star Trek replicator technology, which can produce a steaming hot, nutritious meal within seconds, 3D printing definitely has incredible potential. The latest implementation? Tiny microfish that can “swim” around in your body.
Enter the Microfish
At the University of California, San Diego, researchers claim to have made a bunch of nano-sized fish. These 3D-printed techno-creatures move through liquids much as fish would— hence the name “microfish.” The team created the microfish with the ability to carry along various nanoparticles. The fish can inject these particles into organs or cells within the human body.
Propulsion and Steering
How do the scientists steer their creations? They included platinum nanoparticles inside the fish. When the fish are in a solution of hydrogen peroxide, these particles react with the liquid to move the microfish forward. To direct the fish, the researchers also put in bits of magnetic iron oxide, which allows the microfish to be directed using magnets.
The 3D printing technology allows users to create items of almost any size, as long as the printer has the right parts and settings. Right now, teams like the UC San Diego group can design microscopic units that include various nanoparticles; and in the future, as the technology develops, they will no doubt be able to engineer more complex systems that respond to various if-then scenarios.
What’s the future goal for the microfish? The research team hopes that such miniature robots could one day deliver medicine to patients. Perhaps they could also function as cleaning entities, removing toxins from water or from a bloodstream.
In fact, the research team has already tested a cleaning scenario with the microfish. They made some microfish with polydiacetylene, a toxin neutralizing agent, in nanoparticle form. Next, they created a solution that included harmful toxins. When introduced to the solution, the fish swam as directed, collecting and neutralizing the toxic particles with surprising speed. Scientists had expected them to function at the normal speed of a chemical reaction, but the microfish could move rapidly through the liquid and therefore completed the task much faster.
Undoubtedly, the science and research has much farther to go before we begin injecting ourselves with microfish. However, the medical field is always looking for new, effective, less traumatic ways of improving patient health. With the 3D printing moving ahead so quickly, the days of medical microfish may be just around the corner.