Armies of Nanobots Deliver Toxic Drugs to Cancerous Tumors With High Precision

August 16, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Flagellated bacteria
Photo credit: Montréal Nanorobotics Laboratory

Significantly reducing the risk for surrounding organs and healthy tissues to be damaged. 

Achieving what they call “a spectacular breakthrough in cancer research,” researchers from McGill University, Polytechnique Montréal, and Université de Montréal have developed new nanorobots that can deliver drugs to cancerous tumors with high precision.

The nanorobots navigate through the bloodstream, injecting medication into the specifically-targeted active cancerous cells. This approach serves to significantly lower the risk of damaging the surrounding organs and healthy tissues with the highly toxic cancer-fighting drugs. Not only could this risk be reduced, but the precision of the nanorobot delivery could lower the drug dosage needed to take out the tumors.

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"These legions of nanorobotic agents were actually composed of more than 100 million flagellated bacteria -- and therefore self-propelled -- and loaded with drugs that moved by taking the most direct path between the drug's injection point and the area of the body to cure," Professor Sylvain Martel, Director of the Polytechnique Montréal Nanorobotics Laboratory, said in a press release. "The drug's propelling force was enough to travel efficiently and enter deep inside the tumours."

Describing how the nanorobots work in Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers write that the nanobots enter tumors and then detect the hypoxic zones — the oxygen-depleted tumor areas — and deliver the drugs to these zones. Hypoxic zones are known to be resistant to most cancer therapies, including radiotherapy.

To navigate around, the bacteria rely on two natural systems: a chain of magnetic nanoparticles and an oxygen-measuring sensor. The nanoparticle chain allows the bacteria to move in the direction of a magnetic field, while the oxygen sensor leads them to the cancerous tumor’s active regions.

"Chemotherapy, which is so toxic for the entire human body, could make use of these natural nanorobots to move drugs directly to the targeted area, eliminating the harmful side effects while also boosting its therapeutic effectiveness,” Martel concludes.

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