The Tiny Robot that Can Crawl Through Your Veins—And Treat Your Tumors

By Allison Bond | May 26, 2009 1:23 pm

blood-robotweb.gifThe next big step in cancer treatment might be small enough to balance on a grain of salt.

Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have developed a miniature crawling robot, called ViRob, that can crawl through your lungs, find a tumor, and zap it with drugs. The bot, which is one millimeter long and four millimeters from end to end, can snake its way through the body, slipping into blood vessels and navigating through the respiratory and digestive systems, Innerspace style.

Other mini-robots have been designed to take a voyage into the body. But thanks to tiny arms that help it grip vessel walls , ViRob is the first microbot that can tunnel between different body cavities. It’s controlled by an electromagnetic field outside of the robot that creates a vibration that propels ViRob forward.

In lab tests, the robot has traveled up to nine millimeters per second and can commute through body fluids ranging from blood to bile, making it a versatile tool that can race through a vein and burrow into an organ. Its designers even hope to accessorize it with equipment such as a wee camera and a mini pair of tongs, to get that close-up view of those alveoli at work.  The researchers are officially introducing the device at the upcoming ILSI-Biomed Conference in Tel Aviv.

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Image: Courtesy of Ruder Finn Israel

MORE ABOUT: cancer, medicine, robots
  • Elegiac View

    I will take the honor of being the first person to vehemently state that I would never want such a “creature” in my veins. The very idea fills me with horror. Of course, I should take into consideration that I am the sort of person who dislikes experimental treatments in general, but this – it is simply disturbing.

  • http://robotnext.typepad.com/robotnext Mike Henry

    Since I am a cancer patient, I can definitely say that I would participate in a clinical trial of this little bot. Chemotherapy is most unpleasant with all the side effects and such. Having tiny robots in your bloodstream or having a whole host of poisons in your bloodstream, I think I would welcome the targeted treatment of the robots.

  • Jeremy

    @Elegiac,
    It’s a machine in one’s body. Not unlike, say, a pacemaker.

  • Gonzobot

    Its a machine that vibrates its way, and I take the time to note that there is no mention of how and therefore assume it is simply forcing its way through tissue, between your veins and your organs. Isn’t there a few good reasons to not put holes in your insides? Something tells me that this thing doesn’t close the doors it makes – and its not exactly that small. No thanks.

  • http://www.digitalsatori.net Capissen

    “Isn’t there a few good reasons to not put holes in your insides? Something tells me that this thing doesn’t close the doors it makes – and its not exactly that small.”

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the holes it makes are a *lot* smaller than anything a surgeon would end up having to do. I’m also going to suppose that the technophobes above would submit to such a treatment if prescribed by a doctor as the only way to avoid a nasty cancer-related death.

  • ReGenesis

    Elegiac – Maybe you would change your mind if you had cancer. No cancer treatment is desirable…

  • Jack

    Has anyone read ‘The Singularity Is Near?” Not to sound like a crackpot, but this story gives me chills when I think of that book.

  • juniorsgv

    wow looks like out of matrix, or the island. amazing, but still looks too large without causing a blockage somewhere. next they’ll be used for war for mind control. lol

  • owiho

    that looks like hubble station

  • owiho

    they probably will use it with palestians

  • steve

    For those of you who have had cancer (like me) or still have it, this sounds like a great alternative to surgery, chemo and/or radiation treatment, don’t your think? Keep in mind that any new treatment/cure will take a few years to work all the bugs out (no pun intended…)and get into the mainstream as an alternative but if it works, you would be crazy NOT to use this new technology. Those naysayers that are creeped-out, try having a foot of your colon cut out and then have your body poisoned with chemo and/or radiation for 6 to 12 months and then tell me this doesn’t sound FANTASTIC!?!?

  • http://whatareyouwatching.uni.cc Television Spy

    It’s like that XFiles episode with the bugs under the guys skin, creeped the heck out of me. But this is actually pretty interesting, could be used for all sorts of medical purposes like scraping bad cholesterol etc.

  • http://www.justfuckinggoogleit.com/ NotRetarded

    Okay people.

    1) The photo is a mockup. It’s smaller than a grain of salt.
    2) I believe it doesn’t make holes, rather it vibrates along actual arteries and veins.
    3) Even if it did make holes, they would be plugged nigh instantly unless you had anemia.

    Stop being retarded. Thank-you. :D

  • sensible

    No one is saying that other forms of treatments are desireable, but rather that this particular method is “creepy”… Calm down

  • chris

    @ sensible:

    Your reading skills really aren’t that great. The article says that the robots that could balance on a grain of salt are still on the horizon, not actually in use. The size of the robot which is the subject of the article ” … is one millimeter long and four millimeters from end to end”.

    I agree with your other two statements. However, I would still be worried about other things. Such as what if it stops working while in your lungs? Then lung surgery will likely be necessary.

  • Tobor

    Personally, I welcome the benevolent rule of our robot overlords.

  • Ryan

    if it can save my life then inject 1000 of these into me

  • Al

    If you’re creeped out, don’t have it done. Hell, if you want FAITH HEALING instead of medicine, do that. But I agree with all those who’ve said if they were faced with cancer or similar illness, they’d JUMP at that instead of chemo! I would too!

    My concern is with all the potential for abuse. You think WATERBOARDING is bad? Robots on your insides could make you wish to be waterboarded.

    Or consider this – drug someone, a quick injection, and they would never know they were walking around with thousands of these inside them. No one would ever know the stroke or heart attack they had days later and miles away was actually the perfect crime.

  • babysinister

    “I will take the honor of being the first person to vehemently state that I would never want such a “creature” in my veins. The very idea fills me with horror. Of course, I should take into consideration that I am the sort of person who dislikes experimental treatments in general, but this – it is simply disturbing.”

    wait what? you dislike experimental treatment in general? how, pray tell, do you suppose we find new treatments then? i guess we should stick to the medieval 4 essences theory and drain some blood to cure cancer.

  • joel

    ‘singularity is near’…yes, jack: nanoscale robotics. it creeps you out? this is just phase one. wait until they get it down to real ‘nano.’ about the size of a molecule. perhaps it will be less creepy then.

  • GMB

    What if….what if the little robot leaves trackers all throughout your body and the government can track you wherever you go and it installs cameras in your eyes so they can see and maybe even control you through some implant in your brain but you’d never even be aware?

    Nah. I’d try it.

  • SadCitizen

    No worries guys we don’t have to worry about this stuff ever coming to fruition. It’s just not cost effective to implement with our government health care system. When the government picks and chooses who lives they become the masses become a commodity in that governments eyes. It’s happening now just likes it’s happened in all the other great free countries Russia, Cuba, China, North Korea (great benefits)

  • chaves1234

    The idea of this new robot curing cancer seems fantastic! But I really can’t understand how can a robot “find a tumor, and zap it with drugs”. Overall, taking into account that it is one millimeter long and four millimeters from end to end. It is chemotherapy not neccesary then? Anyway, maybe it’s a good way to find tumors at an early stage.

  • PJ

    “It’s a hollow metal spike that goes in your veins and injects medicine?? NO THANKS!”
    “It’s a machine that shoots X-RAY radiation through your body to take pictures?? NO THANKS!”
    “It’s a completely mechanical heart that they put inside your body?? NO THANKS!”

    Bunch of scaredy technophobes… go crawl back in your holes and continue with the leeches and bloodletting…

  • http://filesmixx.com Erik

    ’singularity is near’…yes, jack: nanoscale robotics. it creeps you out? this is just phase one. wait until they get it down to real ‘nano.’ about the size of a molecule. perhaps it will be less creepy then..

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  • Alan Ralph

    LOLnanobot sez: “O HAI! I’M IN UR VAYNS, FIXIN UR TOOMOORS!”

  • http://wisdomsdoor.blogspot.com Judi J.

    Wow, isn’t technology wonderful. This is such an interesting article and now I have information that I didn’t have before. :) This invention should save a lot of lives and seems to be a very positive advance in medical technology.

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  • slipperedlobster

    This would explain that nagging pain in my left scrotum! Imagine this beast drilling through from the left side to the right and then stabbing in the meds!

  • Pr0wl3r

    So I think that this may be a great breakthrough, but I am definitely a technophobe. I don’t see why people think one side is so much more nonsensical than the other. If you want to put this in your body in hopes that this thing will work, then great. I hope it does work for you. And I know that the treatments available right now are unpleasant, to say the very least. I’ve watched most of my family die during their progression.
    However, if you simply look at the use they have prescribed for this technology and nothing else, you are proceeding blindly into this new age. This technology could be used for ulterior motives very easily, if only altered in the slightest bit. As we approach technological sentience, perhaps it would not need an alteration but merely a virus or other means of techcommunication. This is not so far off. I think that Science is inherently good, but it depends on who has the means and information. We’ve seen this with chemical warfare. What makes you think that this is any different? It all depends on the execution. The world is a scary place right now and whether you call it technophobia or just being prepared, those with a healthy level of fear will probably live longer.

  • Chris

    With any new technology, there is potential for abuse. That’s true no matter what you’re talking about. If we invent something, then, as a species, we’re probably going to end up using it to kill somebody at some point in the future. That isn’t a reason to avoid continuing to press science forward, though, because, especially in a case like this, the benefits outweigh the risks.

    I think that this little robot could save a lot of lives, and it would definitely be a lot more pleasant than traditional chemotherapy for people with cancer. It’s small, it’s not nearly as intrusive as other forms of surgical intervention, and if it keeps you alive when you would have died otherwise, I think that you would be okay with it seeming a little bit creepy.

  • brian

    @Elegiac

    lets wait till you need the treatment before you make such unsubstantiated and imature judgments

  • simon

    Great, but how do you get it out? Or does it maneuver its way to the intestines >_>

  • Bob

    Aren’t you glad that the code was written by cheap Chinese programmers? The company that made the robot saved a lot of money by outsourcing the robot’s brain to China. Now that little guy can run through your body zapping cells with the level of quality assurance that only China can provide!

  • Chris from June 5th is a Moron

    First off, Chris you’re an idiot. NotRetarded stated those three facts. Does anyone not think about how terribly wrong any of this nanotechnology can go? What happens when it shorts out and ends up in your brain thinking its a tumor and starts eating away at that? Come on people, we are getting waaay to far for our own good with technology here. Everyone needs to do a little research and see how many other f***ed up things we are doing in the world today.

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  • To #37

    “what happens when the poisons in your chemotherapy treatment destroy your liver and kidneys and you die?”

    “what happens when the doctor operating on you has a heart attack and nicks your heart”

    “what happens when the plane I’m on crashes”

    etc etc etc.

    “Does anyone not thin about how terribly wrong any of this macrotechnology/natural remedies/etc can go?”

    “Everybody needs to do a little research and see how many other great, positive, beneficial technological achievements we are doing in the world today”

    Also, not sure how Chris is a “moron” just because he accidentally attributed a quote to the following person. NotRetarded WAS wrong, no matter who Chris quotes.

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  • Mosrhun

    @Gonzobot

    It doesn’t make holes in your body idiot, it travels through veins. The article clearly states this.

  • Sam

    Yay for Nano Robots….
    Now I want the one that’ll generate Borg implants ;)

  • theTruth

    The truth is it just a zionist scam a la maddoff to sucker money from gullible investors. Most probably it will get stuck somewhere and make a massive clot.
    The only thing made in Israel is human right abuse, torture and slave labor.

  • Nathan P.

    Ok here is the run down for everyone here that is whining about the changing of the times. This stuff happens ALL THE TIME.

    What do you think happened when Chemotherapy was announced? I can BET that people were like, “I’m going to be bombarded by radiation AND lose all my hair! No thank you i’ll stick with the cancer!” but people still did it.

    The fact is that the world is coming to nano-tech and that people will be for it or against it, based on the circumstances. If you do not like this idea, you don’t, and you will not be FORCED into doing it. For everyone else who knew this was coming and are going to embrace it, yay us.

    If you look at every bad intention with it, yes you waterboarding boyo, nano-tech was going to happen. Don’t blame the gun for killing the person, blame the person holding the gun. Technology is advancing, you can’t help it, the best you can do is prepare for it and learn as much about it so you know how it works and what to look for.

    Please quit complaining about stuff you should have known was coming, and looking at all the bad implications of it… They will not put holes in organs that kill you, they are trying out the pieces of the machine to make sure it works fine and won’t break down, and many other things that you are all worried about it.

    If you thought of it, the people with the doctorates who do this for a living probably thought of it too… chill out and have a pop-tart… thanks

  • http://www.balancedexistence.com Stephen

    That’s just cool!

  • Madness

    Nathan P,

    You said…

    “If you look at every bad intention with it, yes you waterboarding boyo, nano-tech was going to happen. Don’t blame the gun for killing the person, blame the person holding the gun. Technology is advancing, you can’t help it, the best you can do is prepare for it and learn as much about it so you know how it works and what to look for.”

    If you live in America where people in charge don’t give fuck about their people and keep abusing their ignorance, you’ll honestly think that the government won’t find a way to abuse this technology? Know your every move, know what you ate and drank, can see what you see and possibly with a push of the button they can kill you if you engage in any anti-government activities.

    This nano shit sounds wonderful, but flip the coin and see how it can be abused.

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  • Matt

    To the person who wrote the first comment,
    everything was experimental at first. are you saying once it is tested and proven you would still not use this treatment? it is not disturbing,what is disturbing is flooding your body with chemicals known to kill people. (sigh) you strike me as the God type anyway so there is probably no chance of talking any sense into you.

  • http://www.geek97361.com/blog Avrila

    Cool idea, but how does it carry enough chemo or other drugs with it to do any good once it gets there? Although if it could somehow use energy to fry the cancer cells, and it could be recharged (maybe by having the person hang out in a specific magnetic field?), that would be really really cool.

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  • http://www.everything4blackberry.com/ alex grinsk

    It’s like that XFiles episode with the bugs under the guys skin, creeped the heck out of me. But this is actually pretty interesting, could be used for all sorts of medical purposes like scraping bad cholesterol etc.

  • esa

    Elegiac, you are the kind of person that whine a lot… and say”disturbing”…

    I’d like to see you in bed with a major disease and the only resource to heal you would be this wonderful machine. Obviously you would be crying and begging the doctor to use it, even if the introduction point would be your a**.

    Go to live in a cave.

  • http://pp yo mamma

    how much does it cost

  • Ashley

    WOW i think this ‘thing’ is so good for them to have in them so its a chance for the people who have cancer can get better so they dont have to spend holidays in the hospitel like chrismas cause we just had chrismas yesterday and i know that you would want to be with your familys cause i know i would be.I would not want to be in the hospitel laying in bed no i would want to wake up out of my bed and go open mt presents on chrismas not wake up in the hospitel and whate for my presents and thats what they have to do and now they can do it just like us and im only 11  so if i can do it and them so canYOU!!!!!!!

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