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The Fantastic Voyage coming soon to an OR near you

A remote-controlled micro-robot from Israeli startup Bionaut Labs will travel into the brain to deliver life-saving medicine

The Bionaut micro-robot can travel inside the human body and deliver therapeutic drugs directly to the target area (Bionaut Labs)
The Bionaut micro-robot can travel inside the human body and deliver therapeutic drugs directly to the target area (Bionaut Labs)

A miniature capsule is injected into a patient’s spine and finds its way into the brain, where a fast-growing tumor threatens imminent and painful death. Locked onto its deadly target, the robotic capsule releases its payload of targeted chemotherapy directly into the tumor, and then heads for home.

Not since Raquel Welch was shrunk and inserted into a patient’s bloodstream in the 1966 movie “Fantastic Voyage” have doctors come so close to targeting life-saving medication so precisely to reach the inaccessible recesses of the human body.

Bionaut Labs, an Israeli startup, has developed a tiny micro-robot that is set to follow in the slipstream of Ms. Welch and her microscopic medics. The miniaturized capsule can safely go where no medicine delivery system has gone before: the innermost regions of the brain.

Michael Shpigelmacher, the company’s co-founder and CEO, got the idea while working as a McKinsey consultant for large pharmaceutical manufacturers, which brought back childhood memories of the movie. Even as they tried to improve the effectiveness of their treatments, they usually ended up “carpet bombing a patient’s body with drugs, which caused widespread undesired side effects or damage to surrounding tissue and organs,” he says.

“Often, the condition being treated was very focal, like a tumor, yet there we were, flooding the whole body. It was like having one dirty dish in the sink and bringing out a fire hose that floods the whole house just to wash that single dish,” he recalls.

Shpigelmacher, a graduate of the IDF’s Talpiot R&D program and a member of the founding team of PrimeSense, the company that gave the world Xbox Connect Technology and was acquired by Apple in 2013, believes the tiny Bionaut capsule will revolutionize treatment for brain disease and central nervous system disorders by delivering therapeutic treatment to the precise point where it is needed.

The tiny Bionaut robot is smaller, more agile and far safer than the average neurological tool. It is controlled from outside the body using an external magnetic device, and has a tiny, remote-controlled compartment that carries the drug and can be opened on command.

Before insertion, the patient undergoes a brain MRI or CAT scan so the neurosurgeon can plot the capsule’s trajectory through the brain tissue. Once the route has been programmed into the external magnetic controller, the robot is injected into the patient and guided automatically all the way to its drop-off destination, in a procedure lasting under two hours.

Shpigelmacher and his colleagues have been approached by numerous pharmaceutical companies interested in partnering with the company to deliver their medications.

“There is nothing even remotely like it being used today,” says company adviser Dr. Eldad Elnekave, an interventional radiologist at Beilinson Hospital and Schneider’s Children’s Hospital.

Bionaut Labs expects to begin clinical trials in about one year. The company has already received FDA Orphan Drug designation to treat malignant gliomas, and Humanitarian Use Device designation to treat Dandy-Walker syndrome, a rare and debilitating pediatric disease.

“With Bionaut,” says Dr. John Crawford MD, a professor of clinical neurosciences and pediatrics at the University of California San Diego and director of the Neuro-Oncology Program at Rady Children’s Hospital, “we’ll be able theoretically to deliver a concentration of a drug to a very specific part of the brain, or – in one single injection – to attack from multiple fronts, while sparing the surrounding brain some of the toxic effects.”

The Bionaut micro-robot is smaller and safer than the average neurological tool (Bionaut Labs)

The Bionaut team chose to focus on neurodegenerative diseases and brain cancer because of the blood-brain barrier, the tightly-fused cellular system that prevents particles in the blood from entering the brain. The barrier shields the brain from toxins that could cause lethal infections, but also blocks 98 percent of drugs, rendering chemotherapy treatment almost impossible. Surgery often remains the best alternative, but cutting into the brain brings its own risks, including motor function impairment, blood clots and bleeding – and some tumors are simply inaccessible to a surgeon’s scalpel. Radiation therapy, another alternative, has its own dangers.

The Bionaut robot could be the ideal solution, able to bypass the blood-brain barrier and carry any medication or drug combination directly to the treatment area, without being invasive and without damaging the surrounding tissue.

“When we started this research, many of the physicians we spoke to, specialists in cardiology, gastroenterology, ophthalmology and more, simply asked, ‘When can we sign up?’” Shpigelmacher says.

You can invest in Bionaut Labs via OurCrowd, the Jerusalem-based equity investment platform. For more details, click HERE

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