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Oxygen-sensing microrobots

Posted on May 6, 2013
A microrobot to measure the eye's oxygen supply. Credit: Ergeneman O. et al, IEEE Tran Biomed Eng. 2012

A microrobot to measure the eye’s oxygen supply. Credit: Ergeneman O. et al, IEEE Tran Biomed Eng. 2012

When the retina’s supply of blood and oxygen runs low, physicians have to react quickly to preserve a patient’s eyesight. But up until now there have been no methods sensitive enough to measure how well the eye is oxygenated. A microrobot invented by ETH researchers may come to the rescue.

Kirby Pucket and the Minnesota Twins won two “World Series”. One morning in 1996 Pucket awoke without sight in his left eye; he was diagnosed with a retinal vein occlusion from glaucoma. His career in baseball was over. Glaucoma is only one of several diseases that can decrease the oxygen supply to the retina: Like every tissue of our body the retina needs oxygen. An insufficient supply can cause blindness, sometimes – as in the case of Kirby Pucket – within mere hours.

In order to make a fast and correct diagnosis, physicians need to be able to assess oxygen levels within the eye. However, the currently available tools are not very sensitive. Researchers of the multi-scale robotics lab at ETH Zurich have now developed a microrobot that can measure the retina’s oxygen supply. “I picture it like the robots that we use these days to chart the ocean floor”, comments Bradley Nelson, ETH-professor and head of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems. “With our microrobot we can chart the oxygen levels of the inner eye liquid – the vitreous – along the retina.”

Miniature tools

As the retina is hard to access, ophthalmologists require the most precise tools to keep any manipulation as little invasive as possible. Nelson’s team build and constantly improve miniature robots that could deliver drugs to a specific area of the retina or function as micro-scalpels to remove scar tissue within the eye. In talking to ophthalmologists and surgeons the scientists realized the potential their microrobot had as a diagnostic tool if only they could make it measure oxygen at the retina.

Read more at: Phys.org

   
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