Oxygen is vital to human life, and while many know of the ramifications that a lack of oxygen may have to our lungs or brains, many are not aware that our retinas also need oxygen to function; without it, permanent blindness – sometimes within mere hours – can occur. Up until now, it has been difficult for doctors to gauge how much oxygen is reaching the eye, but now researchers at Swiss university ETH Zurich have developed miniscule robots that can be injected into the eye and measure the amount of oxygen in the retina.
Miniature robotic technology has been used in ophthalmological surgeries in recent years for precise and minimally invasive procedures, and scientists were searching for a way to harness the technology as a diagnostic tool. Using fluorescence, the robot glows dependent on the amount of oxygen flowing to the eye. The microrobots are injected into the eye and then steered into position using magnetic fields, doctors can then look into the retina for the glowing robots, the less oxygen reaching the retina, the more the robot glows, signalling a need for doctors to adjust the eyes’ oxygen levels accordingly. The advantage of quick diagnosis could be the difference between sight and blindness.
Says Bradley Nelson, ETH professor and head of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems:
We had this robot and wondered how we could use it to measure oxygen. We could have equipped it with a computer, a sensor and a transmitter, but simple is always better.