3D-Printed Biodegradable Microswimmer for Theranostic Cargo Delivery and Release

Hakan Ceylan, Immihan Ceren Yasa, Oncay Yasa, Ahmet Fatih Tabak, Joshua Giltinan, Metin Sitti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Untethered mobile microrobots have the potential to leverage minimally invasive theranostic functions precisely and efficiently in hard-to-reach, confined, and delicate inner body sites. However, such a complex task requires an integrated design and engineering, where powering, control, environmental sensing, medical functionality, and biodegradability need to be considered altogether. The present study reports a hydrogel-based, magnetically powered and controlled, enzymatically degradable microswimmer, which is responsive to the pathological markers in its microenvironment for theranostic cargo delivery and release tasks. We design a double-helical architecture enabling volumetric cargo loading and swimming capabilities under rotational magnetic fields and a 3D-printed optimized 3D microswimmer (length = 20 μm and diameter = 6 μm) using two-photon polymerization from a magnetic precursor suspension composed from gelatin methacryloyl and biofunctionalized superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles. At normal physiological concentrations, we show that matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2) enzyme could entirely degrade the microswimmer in 118 h to solubilized nontoxic products. The microswimmer rapidly responds to the pathological concentrations of MMP-2 by swelling and thereby boosting the release of the embedded cargo molecules. In addition to delivery of the drug type of therapeutic cargo molecules completely to the given microenvironment after full degradation, microswimmers can also release other functional cargos. As an example demonstration, anti-ErbB 2 antibody-tagged magnetic nanoparticles are released from the fully degraded microswimmers for targeted labeling of SKBR3 breast cancer cells in vitro toward a potential future scenario of medical imaging of remaining cancer tissue sites after a microswimmer-based therapeutic delivery operation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3353-3362
Number of pages10
JournalACS Nano
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 26 2019


  • 3D printing
  • biodegradation
  • drug delivery
  • gelatin
  • hydrogel
  • microrobot
  • targeted delivery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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