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Mucus-riding robot headed to intestines

Darren Murph
September 23, 2006
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While the thought of having anything, much less a robot, crawl around and inspect our intestinal tract is certainly not in the forefront of our minds, Dimitra Dodou from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands hopes her ideas will change the way colonoscopies are performed. Currently, uncomfortably large tubes or devices known as "wormbots" crawl through the delicate linings of your intestines, typically causing a great deal of discomfort in the process. Dodou's prototype contains a "polymer material" that clings to proteins found in the mucus lining of the gut, but can have its "sticky properties temporarily turned off" when sprayed with water. This two-faced material can be used in "snail-like" transporters that move by alternately gliding forward when it releases water, "sticking around" to control direction, and repeating again until the final destination is reached. By the close of 2006, Dodou hopes to have a camera-equipped version available for trial, which could be quite helpful in taking biopsies. Although we certainly don't intend on going under the knife anytime soon, it's quite comforting to know that Dodou's mucus-riding robot should makes things easier to stomach (ahem) if the occasion arises.

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