It was fun, but I wasn’t satisfied with just building fancy gadgets; I wanted to do something helpful for people. I was at UCSD at the time and had access to this incredible community in biomedicine. I started talking to students and faculty around campus and eventually found people who not only helped me to understand biology in ways that influenced how I was thinking of developing robots, but who also helped me to pioneer the first therapeutic applications of one of my microrobots for targeted drug delivery to kill bacterial infections.
With my knowledge of how to make very small, complex robots and with my partners’ knowledge of things like disease models and biological processes, we were eventually able to load antibiotics onto a microrobot and deliver both directly to a bacterial infection in the stomach. This method proved to be six times more efficient in killing a bacterial infection than typical antibiotic capsules.
The potential that this kind of precision drug delivery has to transform medicine is really amazing. Currently, if you take any drug orally, it diffuses throughout your body and you typically have to take doses of the drug every few hours in order for it to be effective. Too often, the failure of treatment is that people don’t take their medication consistently, either due to a lack of access to medical care or simple forgetfulness. If we could implant or inject biodegradable microrobots just once to deliver medication to the precise area where your body needs it over time, we could address this breakdown in treatment.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision and focus only on advances that can be made with the resources available in your lab. It has always been a part of my approach to think about who outside of my lab might be able to help me think about my work in new ways. Today, as a postdoc in chemical engineering at Stanford, I’m again actively collaborating with researchers from medicine and psychiatry to develop new bioelectronic tools to understand how the human body works and with a goal of improving traditional medical practices.