Healing the Brain with Microbots, A Great Journey for a California Startup

Los Angeles (AFP) – Sending a miniature robot into the human brain to heal it? What was science fiction a few decades ago could quickly become a reality, asserts the founder of Bionaut Labs, a California startup that is planning its first clinical trials within two years.

“The idea for the little robot goes back even before I was born. One of the most famous examples is a movie called +Le Voyage Fantastique+, where a team of scientists board a miniature ship to get into the brain and reabsorb a blood clot,” notes Michael Spiegelmacher, CEO of Bionaut Labs.

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“In your mobile phone, you have a set of very precise, highly advanced, micro-machines that are smaller than a grain of rice,” says this bot by training, which has undergone artificial intelligence and consumer electronics.

“What was science fiction in the 1960s is now science fact (…) We want to take this old idea and make it a reality,” the 43-year-old scientist told AFP. A tour of the Bionaut Labs Research and Development Center in Los Angeles.

As a result of a partnership with the prestigious German Max Planck Research Institute, the startup is experimenting with micro-injectable, remote-controlled robots using magnetic energy.

There are other techniques, such as visual or ultrasound testing, but magnetic energy has the advantage of being simple and not interfering with the human body, explains Mr. Spiegelmacher.

sequel after the announcement

Unlike an MRI, the device can be moved easily and consumes ten to a hundred times less electricity.

Magnetic coils placed outside the patient’s skull and the computer are enough to remotely guide a small robot into the brain, as evidenced by an AFP simulation.

– Cysts and tumors –

The sequence begins, and after a pre-programmed path, the robot – a metal cylinder a few millimeters long with powerful neodymium magnets embedded – begins to develop into a gel that reproduces the brain.

sequel after the announcement

The machine comes to position itself under a pocket filled with a blue liquid, then suddenly pierces it with its pointed end, propelled like a rocket, allowing the liquid to flow out of the pocket.

The bot can then be extracted following the same path.

When Bionaut Labs begins its first clinical trials, that’s exactly what should penetrate the sacs filled with cerebrospinal fluid in the brain caused by Dandy-Walker malformation, a rare birth condition that affects babies.

These cysts, which can grow to the size of a golf ball, swell and put pressure on the brain, causing a host of serious disorders.

sequel after the announcement

Bionaut Labs has already tested its robots in specialized laboratories “on large animals, sheep and pigs. The data shows that the technology is safe for humans,” assures Michael Spiegelmacher.

“Most brain surgery today is limited to a straight line,” Spiegelmacher says. “If you can’t get to the target in a straight line, you’re stuck.”

Injectable robots “make it possible to reach otherwise unreachable targets, following the safest path possible.”

Thanks to these promising first results, the startup has already received clearance from the US Drug Administration (FDA) to test its method for patients with Dandy-Walker syndrome as well as malignant glioma, a cancerous brain tumor considered incurable. .

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In the latter case, the tiny robot will be equipped with a container containing an anti-cancer treatment and will travel to the tumor to deposit its drug payload there.

The “surgical blow” in which currently available techniques bombard the entire body, with loss of efficacy and many adverse effects, explains Mr. Spiegelmaccher.

“And since we’re a robot, we can close the loop, take measurements and take tissue samples,” the president of Bionaut Labs, which has about thirty employees and continues to hire, is excited.

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Bionaut Labs is already in discussions with partners to treat other diseases that affect the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or stroke.

sequel after the announcement

“As far as I know, we’re the first commercial attempt to design ‘such a product’ but I don’t think we’ll be left alone,” says Michael Spiegelmacher, because academic research is very active with “about fifteen teams” currently working on the topic.

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