Researchers have developed microscopic robots which are able to target cancer cells and kill them as quickly as 60 seconds, sources from one of the universities said.
Scientists at Rice University, North Carolina, and Durham in the UK, describe the innovation as “motorized molecules”, which, when stimulated by light, are able to drill holes in the membranes of particular cells and “bring therapeutic agents into the cell”.
The researchers mounted on the nanomachines special miniature motors which spun when activated by light.
“We thought it might be possible to attach these nanomachines to the cell membrane and then turn them on to see what happened,” James Tour, one of the scientists leading the experiment at Rice University, said.
The motors were designed so as to target and either deliver medicines to the cells, or alternatively drill through the membrane and kill the diseased cell.
The motor, which was based on the research of 2016 chemistry Nobel laureate Bernard Feringa, resembled a paddle-like chain of atoms, the scientists explain. When stimulated by ultraviolet light, it was able to spin at 2 to 3 million times per second.
“These nanomachines are so small that we could park 50,000 of them across the diameter of a human hair, yet they have the targeting and actuating components combined in that diminutive package to make molecular machines a reality for treating disease,” Tour said.
The researchers said it took up to a minute for one of those nanobots to drill through a cell’s membrane which made it unlikely for a cell to develop a resistance to the procedure.
The teams expect that the innovative technique can help kill different types of cancer, including breast tumors and melanomas which are currently resistant to chemotherapy.
“Once developed, this approach could provide a potential step change in noninvasive cancer treatment and greatly improve survival rates and patient welfare globally,” Robert Pal of Durham said.
His lab tested the nanomachines on live cells, including human prostate cancer. They predict that in the future the technique could be further develop for in-vivo applications, paving the way towards a novel and cost-effective photodynamic cancer therapy.
“The researchers are already proceeding with experiments in microorganisms and small fish to explore the efficacy in-vivo,” Tour said. “The hope is to move this swiftly to rodents to test the efficacy of nanomachines for a wide range of medicinal therapies.
The study was conducted by diverse teams of specialists in chemistry and analytical chemistry, biomolecular engineering, electrical and computer engineering, materials science and nanoengineering.
Check out the nanobots in action: