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Like a snail through the intestinal canal

The medical device currently used for intestinal research, the colonsope, causes patients great discomfort. At TU Delft, an alternative method has been developed, inspired by the way in which snails move. On September 18, researcher Dimitra Dodou received her PhD degree from TU Delft based on this research subject.

The intestines are an extremely difficult area to navigate through with a medical device. Yet, many people need to have intestinal examinations done to determine if, for example, they have intestinal cancer. The medical device currently used for this is the colonscope, a long, thin and flexible tube that causes patients great discomfort and pain. For this reason, researchers have been trying to develop alternative medical devices, such as, for example, a small robot that moves independently through the intestinal tract. There is a layer of slime, called mucus, on the inside of the large intestine (colon). The robots, as they move forward under their own power, ignore this layer of mucus and try, if possible, to suck or grab on to the intestinal wall, which results in the walls being stretched and the patient feeling pain and discomfort.

A better method, according to TU Delft researcher Dimitra Dodou, is in fact to use this layer of mucus and allow the robot to imitate the forward movement of a snail. A snail leaves a trail of slime behind it on the ground. This slimy material works simultaneously as a lubricant for gliding on and as a glue which the slug can grip hold of.

An intestinal robot should also have a similar layer to use. To achieve this, an adhesive layer is added to the mucus-like properties, which allows the device to be stuck to the layer of mucus. The ability to be attached to a surface covered with lubricant is a great technological challenge, because most adhesives normally only work on 'clean' surfaces. The researchers discovered a group of polymers, so-called muco-adhesives, that are suitable for this. Dodou us
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Source:Delft University of Technology


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