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Medical Origami Featured Pattern: P0990 November 2016

Author: David Strachan-Olson (Send us feedback.)

Researchers are applying folding techniques in a variety of medical applications.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

Origami—the traditional Japanese art of paper folding—enables the creation of complex structures and designs through the folding of simple materials. The ability to fold medical devices into compact shapes would enable the devices to travel through the body easily while maintaining their functionality.

University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia) graduate student Austin Taylor and colleagues are developing a novel cardiac catheter. A folding device on the tip of the catheter contains both a tool for cauterizing heart tissue and the wire coils necessary for magnetic-resonance imaging. Taylor chose a pinwheel-like shape for the device, which enables it to fold into a size small enough to navigate a patient's blood vessels. Once doctors position the device inside a patient's heart, the device unfolds to enable ablation and high-quality imaging of the heart.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge, Massachusetts), the University of Sheffield (Sheffield, England), and the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo, Japan) developed an ingestible origami robot. The researchers gave the robot accordion folds to enable it to move using stick-slip motion—a type of locomotion in which the robot's appendages use friction to stick to a surface but slip free when the robot's body changes its weight distribution by flexing. Researchers control this motion using an external magnetic field that acts on a magnet in the robot. Because the robot folds, the researchers can encapsulate it in an easy-to-swallow pill. The team believes the robot could remove button batteries from the stomach after people accidentally swallow them.

Researchers are also applying folding techniques at the nanoscale. For example, DNA origami is a technique in which researchers fold strands of DNA to create custom nanostructures of nearly any shape. Because manually manipulating DNA to create nanostructures is a complicated and labor-intensive process, few researchers possess the knowledge and experience necessary to use the technique; however, researchers from MIT and other institutions recently developed an algorithm that automatically determines the proper DNA sequence for a nanostructure on the basis of the nanostructure's desired 3D geometry. By simplifying this complex process, the algorithm will enable more researchers to work with DNA origami and should speed the development of nanostructures for use in applications in fields as diverse as vaccinology and genetic engineering.