3D-Printed Microscopic Fish Might Cure Disease - InformationWeek
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3D-Printed Microscopic Fish Might Cure Disease

Nanoengineers (yes, that's a thing) from UC San Diego have created microscopic fish powered by hydrogen peroxide that use magnets to steer themselves. Here's how they can help keep us healthy.

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They might be the best fish you put into your body since Pepperidge Farms made rainbow cheddar goldfish. They're microscopic robot fish that are 3D-printed and used to remove toxins from your body or deliver medicine. And they're real.

Nanoengineers (yes, that's a thing) from UC San Diego have created microscopic fish powered by hydrogen peroxide that use magnets to steer themselves. They are among the first microrobots made from more than one material, and they have a complex shape and design. Most previous designs have been cylindrical or spherical in nature and had difficulty propelling themselves.

The fish are made from platinum and iron oxide particles, which particles can remove toxins from water and maybe one day from our bodies. They're 30 microns thick. Compare that to a human hair, which is about 75 microns across, depending on the person.

The "fish" are powerful enough to swim through your bloodstream, removing toxins or bringing medicine directly to crucial parts of your body, as cells in your blood stream do. Given enough time, the fish could be used to deliver drugs directly to cancer tumors or parts of your body that are too fragile for surgery. Cancer, hepatitis C, and Parkinson's have all been considered prime candidates for targeted cures from such a technology.

The best part of the fish is that they are 3D-printed, so you can print out hundreds of them per second. You can easily produce whole armies (should I say schools?) of robotic fish to fight off a toxin. Here they are glowing red from ingesting a toxin in a test solution.

(Image: UC San Diego)

(Image: UC San Diego)

Because the fish are 3D-printed and the process digitized the engineers can produce an endless variety of shapes rather quickly. They've also experimented with sharks and rays. Of course, the engineers picked hydrodynamic shapes like fish because the robots move in liquid. But technically you could make one look like a house or horseshoe if you wanted. It is possible certain shapes will be required for specific diseases in the future.

[ More and more people understand 3D printing. Read Makerbot CEO: 3D Printing Going Mainstream. ]

Nanobots have long been thought to be the path to curing diseases that are otherwise difficult to cure. Ray Kurzweil has famously predicted that nanobots are potentially the cure to death. They could run through our bodies correcting the errors in our DNA. Until recently, we had no ability to make a robot like this useful.

In January, UC San Diego was also the first school to implant a nanobot into a person and have it deliver a payload. Those nanobots were less sophisticated than the fish. Technically the fish are microbots, but realistically they might be small enough to get Kurzweil's vision accomplished. It shouldn't be too long before we can make them even smaller.

Combine the payload delivery of the earlier experiment with the mobility of this current experiment and you are really on to something, especially if the fish can shrink in size.

Of course, nanobots are often the source of speculation about the death of all humanity. There is the "grey goo" theory that one day nanobots will learn to self-replicate and quickly eat everything organic on the planet in a never-ending urge to procreate.

There are several explanations about why this couldn't happen, including the fact that we could stop it with a fairly simple electromagnetic pulse. But it is fun to think that with this step toward a viable 3D-printed microscopic delivery device we are either one step closer to curing all the diseases of mankind or one step closer to just destroying ourselves entirely. Or both.

What do you think? Do you believe one day microscopic schools of fish will keep you alive forever, or at least cure your cancer? Or would you rather eat Pepperidge Farm goldfish? Comment below.

Oh, and by the way, if you were wondering how to get the fish back out of your blood stream, I have a theory. Here's a tiny 3D-printed fishing reel to catch tiny 3D-printed fish.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
9/1/2015 | 1:01:20 AM
Re: Very Interesting
It is a great point to relate cutting edge technology with technology from the 1940s. Often times we tend to overlook processes that already have decades of practical operations in the world while, trying to comprehend developments of the present.

And I feel that it is also a major development to get a foreign object (nanobots) into a living body without the immune system initiating a full scale war.
Hutch52
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Hutch52,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/31/2015 | 6:28:50 PM
Re: Very Interesting
Removal of the "Fish" should not be difficult.  They said that they contain Iron Oxide, is a magnetic material.  With a connection similar to a Hemo Dialysis machine (Two needle sticks) route the blood through a machine that can generate a magnetic field to direct their motion of travel and you should be able to "Fish" them all out in a few hours of fishing (Filtration).
StaceyE
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StaceyE,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2015 | 2:38:42 PM
Re: 3D-Printed Microscopic Fish Might Cure Disease
It is pretty cool that 3D printers are becoming more accessible and affordable, but it is also kinda of scary to know the things that could be created by someone with bad intentions. They've already had episodes on television crime dramas about the bad guy creating a murder weapon with a 3D printer.
StaceyE
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StaceyE,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2015 | 2:34:21 PM
Re: once a dream
3D printing technology is pretty amazing! I saw a story on the news about a little girl who was trying out her pretty pink 3D printed prosthetic hand for the first time the other day. The possibilities of this technology are endless!
StaceyE
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StaceyE,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2015 | 2:30:28 PM
Re: Very Interesting
I think this is where Davids idea of the 3D nano fishing reel would come into play... ;)
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2015 | 8:53:06 AM
Re: 3D-Printed Microscopic Fish Might Cure Disease
You certainly know how to write a headline, Dave; I couldn't resist clicking on this one while scrolling through the front page. Imagine my surprise to learn how close the real science was to the sci-fi version that popped into my head! Think about this; with 3D-printers finally entering a price range where they can be in people's homes, a future where people can 3D print medical aids (maybe not these guys right off the bat) on their own might not be so far off. It could be the next regulatory wild west after drones.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
8/29/2015 | 11:40:02 PM
Re: Very Interesting
It will be an interesting fight to watch as they become smaller. I hear that as an object becomes smaller it is harder for the object to travel within a liquid -- water transforms into a jelly-like state on the Nano scale. Once the disease is cured or cancer cell/s destroyed then, removing the toxicity of the nanobot's constructive material will be important or the nanobots will need to be constructed out of materials that can be consumed by the body. 
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
8/29/2015 | 1:27:46 AM
once a dream
Wow - what a development. 3D printing is making hamanities' dream come true in lot of areas including medicine, space, engineering, warfare, etc.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
8/28/2015 | 7:55:11 PM
Re: Very Interesting
Yes, I agree, they are still too big. But once they get smaller -about 0.1 microns, for what i read-, they could have a fighting chance against some virus. Well, that's a fight I'd like to see!
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
8/28/2015 | 7:08:56 PM
Very Interesting
And potentially very useful. But, at this size, they're still way too big to get into a normal sized cell, without lysing it.
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