Metamaterials lead the way to treatments by travelling through ‘innerspace’

In the future of healthcare, implanted micro devices will play a leading role in monitoring and diagnosis


The films Innerspace (1987) and Fantastic Voyage (1966) saw microscopic motors whirling through the human body to check and improve its health. Minus the human pilots, similar mini molecular machines could soon bring the curative powers of these sci-fi classics closer to reality.


Cancer cells are some of the possible targets of the treatments enabled by metamaterials. Credits: pixabay.

New materials and techniques have already transformed medicine. Now different kinds of micro devices made from metamaterials, which contain multiple elements to provide desirable properties, will help to diagnose and treat specific conditions all over the body. For instance, cancer treatment could be improved by increasing a drug concentration in the affected area while limiting its off-target dosage in healthy tissues and reducing its side effects.


The ABIOMATER (Magnetically Actuated Bio-inspired Metamaterials) project consortium aims to produce a new class of metamaterials with useful mechanical and optical properties that can be controlled by external magnetic fields. These kinds of materials will be useful also for building devices able to travel the human body through the liquids flowing in veins and capillaries, until reaching the target where they can deliver drugs.


Metamaterials are designed and produced to have properties that are not found in nature

But why use metamaterials? Because metamaterials have very interesting properties that cannot be found in nature. Moreover, these new properties are not derived from the kind of atoms they are made from, but are linked to the greater geometrical structure. For example, if it is possible to change the geometric structure of a material using magnetic fields, then its properties can be changed too after being pumped a carcinoma. This is what ABIOMATER team is trying to achieve.


The main achievement of the project so far is the implementation of the first self-propelled devices with low Reynolds number (a condition where viscous effects dominate the motion), based entirely on the standard lithographic techniques used to make many mass technologies, such as the CMOS used building integrated circuits. Compared to other similar devices, the micromotors developed by the project researchers are cheaper and can be easily integrated into the standard lab-on-a-chip technology, laying the base for a modern and more affordable preventive and therapeutic medicine. Progress was documented by a publication in Scientific Reports.


Funded by the EU Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme, the €3M ABIOMATER project involves five partners and is coordinated by the University of Exeter, UK.


ABIOMATER participated in the FET Meet&Match event held during the European Business and Innovation Centre Network (EBN) Congress in Enghien-les-Bains, France, from 5-6 July 2017. The Meet&Match event was organised by the EFFECT and FET2RIN projects in collaboration with the EBN and brought researchers and business stakeholders together to boost market uptake of FET technology.


Cover image: via