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Development of neural cell delivery microrobot for research of severe brain diseases

  • 조회. 517
  • 등록일. 2020.10.04
  • 작성자. Public Relations Team

Professor Hongsoo Choi, DGIST, develops a microrobot that selectively connects neural networks by minimizing cell damage using in vitro wireless control. 
A significant role is expected in research of nervous-system-related diseases, including severe brain diseases, such as dementia and epilepsy.


DGIST Professor Hongsoo Choi of robotic engineering (right), first author Eunhee Kim, PhD student (center), and Jin-young Kim, senior researcher of the DGIST-ETH Microrobotics Research Center (left)


DGIST announced that Professor Hongsoo Choi and his team in the department of Robotics Engineering developed a neural cell delivery microrobot that connects neural networks by accurately delivering neurons to the intended locations under the in vitro environment. The development is expected to play a significant role in future research of various nervous-system-related diseases, such as dementia, epilepsy, and other severe brain diseases. 

 Research on microrobot technology for the treatment of human tissues that makes drug treatment and surgeries possible is currently drawing attention. Microrobots can accurately deliver neural cells without wasting cells or drugs since they are controlled through wireless control using external magnetic fields. Prof. Choi’s team succeeded in developing a platform that makes neuron delivery and neural network connection possible by using these advantages of microrobots.

 The research team produced a microrobot with a length of 300µm using the 3D laser lithography1)  process and created a groove of 5-µm patterns on the robot body to cultivate neurons. The structures underwent a metal deposition process of nickel and titanium oxide thin films for magnetic field driving and biocompatibility.

 To verify the connecting ability of the microrobot to the neural network, the research team separated and cultivated hippocampal neurons independently on a microelectrode array(MEA), which is a measuring system for electric signals generated by neurons. After cultivating hippocampal neurons on the microrobot body, they moved the microrobot to connect the hippocampal neurons on the chip. The microrobot carrying neurons moved quickly to interconnect neurons and checked electric signals exchanged between neurons. The research team confirmed for the first time that neural networks of a desired pattern can be connected through this process and proved the possibility of analyzing physiological functions by connecting many neurons.

 Prof. Choi said, “This research will be a breakthrough in analysis of functional biosignals for research of various nervous system diseases, because the microrobot can connect in vitro neurons in a desired pattern. We expect that the development will be applicable to various application studies based on the electrophysiological analysis of neurons.” He also revealed his plans, saying “We will make an effort to use this microrobot for various medical and engineering purposes through follow-up research.”

 This research project was carried out as a convergence study of Prof. Hongsoo Choi’s team, Senior Researcher Jinyoung Kim of the DGIST-ETH Microrobotic Research Center, Prof. Seong-Woon Yu with his team from the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences together with Professor Jong-cheol Ra of the Korea Brain Research Institute(KBRI). The research result was published on online issue of Science Advances in September 25th. The project was supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT and the DGIST.


1) 3D laser lithography: In this process, a laser with a wavelength of 780 nm having a short femtosecond pulse of 100 fs is irradiated to a photoresist and exposed to light. This method can be used to produce sophisticated 3D structures without a mask.


Image of the neuron-delivery microrobot: the cultivation of neurons put on the microrobot according to a micropattern is shown by fluorescence imaging
Comparison of neurite alignment between the result of connecting a cell pattern by imitating a neural network separated by transporting a microrobot with cultivated hippocampal neurons and a pattern created without using a microrobot
Result of transporting a microrobot between cell patterns after forming a separated neural network in an MEA and the result of recording voluntary electrophysiological neural activity
Results of recording the propagation of electrophysiological signals in a cell pattern without a microrobot by electrical stimulation using MEA and in a cell pattern connected by a microrobot


For more information, contact:
Hongsoo Choi, Professor
Department of Robotics Engineering 
Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST)
E-mail: mems@dgist.ac.kr

Associated Links
Research Paper in Journal of Science Advances
DOI : 10.1126/sciadv.abb5696

Journal Reference
Eunhee Kim, Sungwoong Jeon, Hyun-Kyu An, MehrnooshKianpour, Seong-Woon Yu, Jin-young Kim, Jong-Cheol Rah, and Hongsoo Choi, "A magnetically actuated microrobot for targeted neural cell delivery and selective connection of neural networks", Science Advances, 25 September 2020.