The nano-robots can distribute drugs directly to cells
Spotted: Researchers at the Bioengineering Institute of Catalonia (IBEC) and the University of Pennsylvania are developing nano-machines that can ‘swim’ by themselves through the human bloodstream to deliver disease-fighting drugs directly to where they are needed most. Their work has recently been published in the peer-reviewed journal ACS Nano.
To create their nano-robots, the researchers have developed micro-motors based on porous silica. These are driven autonomously by a chemical reaction – the catalysis of the urease enzyme. The nanobots are coated with two types of antimicrobial peptide – proteins with an antimicrobial action. One of these is a naturally occurring peptide and the second was a synthetic peptide derived from wasp venom.
The two peptides alter the cell membrane of the target bacteria, making them more susceptible to attack by the body’s immune system and other drugs. The researchers then tested the effect of the nano-robots on five types of ‘clinically relevant’ bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and found them to be effective at targeting and destroying the microbes. The team hope to eventually apply the urea-propelled ‘bladdebots’ to fight bladder cancer by delivering cancer-fighting drugs directly to the cancer cells.
If successful, group leader Samuel Sanchez hopes that the approach could lead to a whole new ‘reference point’ in medicine, where nanobots are used to deliver a variety of custom-designed drugs in vivo. “There are many biological barriers that nanoparticles need to overcome in order to reach the [target] tissue … and therefore we need to make something that can go faster from A to B, interact with the matrix, target the cells and be more efficient,” he explained.
The nanobots are just the latest in a line of microscopic devices being developed to serve a variety of tasks. From nano-sensors that can detect pesticide residues to nano-filters that can separate chemicals at a molecular level.
Written By: Lisa Magloff