November 14, 2016

Using robotics to combat schistosomiasis

Written by Taylor Kubota

This post originally appeared on Standford Medicine.

If you ever find yourself putting a swimming parasite robot into a fish tank full of corn syrup, know that you’re likely to make a mess. This scenario is odd, I’ll admit, but it’s one that members of Stanford’s Prakash Lab found themselves in often.

They used robots, along with live observation and mathematical modeling, to investigate the unique swimming style of the larvae that infects humans with schistosomiasis, a crippling disease that disproportionately effects people living in impoverished areas. Their work is featured in the Stanford News Service video above.

Bioengineer Manu Prakash, PhD, (who was recently named a MacArthur Fellow) said he has worked on diagnostic tools for this disease in the field but found that current techniques for treatment and diagnosis are not enough. So, he decided to focus instead on targeting the parasite’s ability to find a human host.

As part of this work, the researchers created simplified robotic models of the schistosomiasis larvae, some that exactly mimicked its stroke and others that moved in a modified style. They used corn syrup because its viscosity offset the difference in size between the robots and the larvae.

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