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ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2019, 11(14), 13359-13369

Recoverable Bismuth-Based Microrobots: Capture, Transport, and On-Demand Release of Heavy Metals and an Anticancer Drug in Confined Spaces

Self-propelled microrobots are seen as the next step of micro- and nanotechnology. The biomedical and environmental applications of these robots in the real world need their motion in the confined environments, such as in veins or spaces between the grains of soil. Here, self-propelled trilayer microrobots have been prepared using electrodeposition techniques, coupling unique properties of green bismuth (Bi) with a layered crystal structure, magnetic nickel (Ni), and a catalytic platinum (Pt) layer. These Bi-based microrobots are investigated as active self-propelled platforms that can load, transfer, and release both doxorubicin (DOX), as a widely used anticancer drug, and arsenic (As) and chromium (Cr), as hazardous heavy metals. The significantly high loading capability for such variable cargoes is due to the high surface area provided by the rhombohedral layered crystal structure of bismuth, as well as the defects introduced through the oxide layer formed on the surface of bismuth. The drug release is based on an ultrafast electroreductive mechanism in which the electron injection into microrobots and consequently into the loaded objects causes an electrostatic repulsion between them and thus an ultrafast release of the loaded cargos. Remarkably, we have presented magnetic control of the Bi-based microrobots inside a microfluidic system equipped with an electrochemical setup as a proof-of-concept to demonstrate (i) heavy metals/DOX loading, (ii) a targeted transport system, (iii) the on-demand release mechanism, and (iv) the recovery of the robots for further usage.

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