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CANDYBOTS: A New Generation of 3D‐Printed Sugar‐Based Transient Small‐Scale Robots

In a recent study published in Advanced Materials, Dr Josep Puigmartí (IQTC member) in collaboration with Dr Salvador Pané Vidal (IQTC external collaborator) and Dr Xiang-Zhong Chen, have developed sugar-based microrobots for biomedical applications, which are way more biologically compatible than other materials.

Sugars are structural building blocks in almost all forms of life. Their biocompatibility and biodegradability characteristics make them attractive materials for biomedical tools such as small-scale robots. Additionally, sugars are inexpensive and easily processed materials, thus constituting a sustainable alternative for producing transient devices

A current trend in small-scale robotics consists of developing biodegradable platforms that do not require retrieval after their tasks have been accomplished. Current CANDYBOTS degrade very quick in water (as shown in this video), which makes them attractive for applications where the dissolution of the device should take place very rapidly. Furthermore, sugars display very rich chemistry, which can be exploited to functionalize a wealth of functional molecules, such as therapeutic compounds. Therefore, the researchers believe that the future of 3D printed sugar is endless and has a wealth of possibilities in several research fields.

Here, an additive manufacturing approach to produce magnetic sugar-based composites is introduced. First, it is shown that sugar-based 3D architectures can be 3D printed by selective laser sintering. This method enables not only the caramelization chemistry but also the mechanical properties of the sugar architectures to be adjusted by varying the laser energy. It is also demonstrated that mixtures of sugar and magnetic particles can be processed as 3D composites. As a proof of concept, a sugar-based millimetre-scale helical swimmer, which is capable of corkscrew motion in a solution with a viscosity comparable to those of biological fluids, is fabricated. The millirobot quickly dissolves in water, while being manipulated through magnetic fields (you can see it in this video). The present fabrication method can pave the way to a new generation of transient sugar-based small-scale robots for minimally invasive procedures. Due to their rapid dissolution, sugars can be used as an intermediate step for transporting swarms of particles to specific target locations.

The publication of this research in the journal Advanced Materials has generated a lot of interest and has deserved a special report by Wiley in the Advanced Science News highlights site.