3-D Printed Microscopic Fish – How Will It Shape Healthcare?

Researchers from the University of California San Diego have recently developed 3-D printed “microfish” that are injected into human bodies for medical treatment.

We’ve all seen old episodes of cartoons where characters shrink and explore the interior human body, but once it becomes a reality, how will it affect both healthcare companies and their patients?

An article reports that the two professors – Shoachen Chen and Joseph Wang – have developed a 3-D printed microfish that can swim around and detect toxins in the human body.

Chen and Wang had “recognized that most microrobots that have already been produced are unable to perform more advanced tasks due to their simply-shaped designs and inorganic physical make-ups.” Because of this, the two researchers have developed micro-robots in shapes of fish – organisms that live and function in fluids.

The researchers designed the head of the fish to contain iron oxide nanoparticles – which is used to steer the fish magnetically – while the tail end contains platinum nanoparticles, which react to hydrogen peroxide to drive the fish forward. The researchers use these movement methods to maneuver the microfish into hard-to-reach places in the body.

Inside the body, the fish have the ability to sense and detoxify toxins – such as bee venom – found in the body. The researchers also hope to develop a way where the fish can be used to deliver drugs to different parts of the body.

The microfish are said to have, “the width of a single strand of human hair,” and with the help of a special 3-D printing developed by Chen – microscale continuous optical printing – can be produced as fast as several hundereds within a second. The article explains that it functions so efficiently because it contains a, “digital micromirroring array device chip, containing millions of micromirrors that function separately from one another.”

I feel like this technology, with further development, could greatly affect how patients are treated, and may even affect how the healthcare system may function in the future. These microfish – which can already identify toxins in the body – could potentially detect other unwanted substances in the body such as viruses, bacteria, and maybe even cancer cells.

A drug delivery system could also greatly enhance how drugs or other substances such as vitamins are absorbed by the body, allowing greater use of resources that may be expensive or limited.

Even the presence of these microfish in general may be able to quickly tell us if there’s something wrong happening in our bodies that we cannot regularly detect from symptoms alone. Why visit a doctor 4 times a year for a checkup when a fish could just tell you if there’s something wrong?

Chen’s printer allows the researchers to print millions of the fish at a time, which could make the microfish greatly accessible to people all over the world that cannot or do not have the privilege of frequently visiting a doctor. Their printing methods could also open up new possibilities for more efficient manufacturing.

These are all only ideas from the top of my head, but from a researchers point of view, there could be even more things that these microfish could be developed to do. Though I haven’t heard these news until today, I believe this is something that many of us should be aware of as a way to both support these researchers, but also see what these fish can do for us.


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