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A swarm of micro-robots, directed by magnets, can dislodge and remove the biofilm that forms the characteristic plaque that forms around teeth and promotes and sustains common oral diseases, from caries to periodontal disease.

The innovation stems from a partnership between dentists, biologists and engineers at the University of Pennsylvania and has been described in Science Robotics . With two types of robotic systems, one designed to work on surfaces and the other to operate within confined spaces, scientists have shown that robots with catalytic activity have the ability to destroy oral biofilm, that complex aggregation of microorganisms that is deposited on dental hard substance, restorations and prosthetic restorations, gingiva, mucous membranes, tongue and periodontal pockets. These robotic biofilm removal systems promise to be useful in a wide range of potential applications: while they will be able to keep water tubes and catheters clean, they will also go a long way toward reducing the risk of caries, endodontic infections, and implant contamination.

Coordinating the study were Hyun Koo of the School of Dental Medicine and Edward Steager of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Underlying our result ,” said Koo. there was a truly synergistic and multidisciplinary interaction. We are harnessing the expertise of microbiologists, clinical scientists, and engineers to design the best possible microbial eradication system, which is also an important aspect for other biomedical fields facing drug-resistant biofilms, just as the world is approaching a post-antibiotic era.”.

And Steager added, “treating biofilms that form on teeth requires a great deal of manual labor, with our innovation we hope to improve treatment options and reduce the difficulty of care.”

According to the U.S. researchers, current treatments for biofilms are ineffective because they are unable to simultaneously degrade the protective matrix, kill the embedded bacteria and physically remove the biodegraded products. Instead, according to Koo, “these robots can do the three things at the same time and very effectively, leaving no biofilm behind.”

Hwang G, Paula JA, Hunter EE et al. Catalytic antimicrobial robots for biofilm eradication. Science Robotics 24 Apr 2019: Vol. 4, Issue 29, eaaw2388.

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