Remote-controlled, microscale robots offer hope for treating CNS disorders
By Alex Segura Lozano
Los Angeles, California, Mar 19 (efe-epa).- Microscale robot technology, a mere science-fiction fantasy a few decades ago, could be deployed in the near future to treat real-life patients thanks to the work of newly launched Bionaut Labs.
Under a new medical modality introduced by that Los Angeles-based startup’s team of developers, tiny gadgets known as “bionauts” that are remotely controlled by external magnets may soon be inserted into people’s spine or skull to deliver the exact quantity of biologics, nucleic acids or small molecule therapies required to specific central nervous system (CNS) disease areas.
“The idea is to develop a precise way to reach hard-to-reach locations in the human body. We’re starting from the brain – but it’s applicable in other places in the body – and deliver treatments with a very high level of precision and safety, where you cannot do it today,” Bionaut Labs’ co-founder and CEO, Michael Shpigelmacher, said in an interview with Efe.
The initial objective of the startup’s team of medical, engineering and drug-development experts is to use microscale robots to attack brain tumors, which are difficult to treat with current technology since radiation and brain surgery can cause severe and irreversible damage.
Bionaut Labs’ technology has the potential to significantly reduce or eliminate that risk by delivering drugs directly to the tumor without affecting any other part of the brain.
Shpigelmacher, who has a background in physics, mathematics, finance and computer science, and his team decided to focus initially on the treatment of brainstem glioma, a devastating tumor that predominantly affects children and young adults and has proven to be virtually incurable with conventional treatments.
Should the Bionaut platform prove successful in treating that tumor in clinical trials, expected to take place in 2023, the start-up hopes to expand the use of its technology to other illnesses affecting the central nervous system – including Huntington’s disease, a mostly inherited neurodegenerative disease – as well as to other difficult-to-reach areas of the body such as the inside of the eye.
Shpigelmacher said the bionauts measure less than one millimeter in length and are remotely controlled by an externally applied magnetic field.
“The bionaut is introduced into the body using a needle, a standard tool that the physicians use … to access the central nervous system. It’s imaged live using fluoroscopy … (or) X-ray video, and you drive it remotely using the magnetic field … You get it to the point where it needs to go, moving either through the actual brain tissue, or through the … cerebral spinal fluid that surrounds the brain and the spine,” the expert said.
Bionaut Labs, which had been working in stealth mode since 2016, announced its launch early this month with the aim of expediting the widespread availability of this technology,
It said in a March 3 press release that its launch was backed by $20 million in financing from a syndicate of investors that was led by Khosla Ventures and also included Upfront Ventures, Revolution, BOLD Capital and Compound. EFE-EPA