Chinese scientists have found a way to deliver life-saving drugs closer to the source of the affliction than ever before, which is a significant breakthrough in the new field of nanomedicine.
The method using new microbot
technologies is so effective that scientists believe it may even revolutionise treatments
for brain disease.
Published in Science Robotics as ‘Dual-responsive biohybrid neutrobots for active target delivery’, the paper discusses a new microbot that uses clever disguises to provide the most targeted treatment in the field yet.
Zhiguang Wu, a co-author of the study and nanotechnology professor at the Harbin Institute of Technology, said the microbots can navigate obstacles in the human anatomy previously considered too difficult to reach.
One of the hardest to reach
boundaries in the human body is the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which acts as a
shield against blood-borne infections and pathogens. The research team is
confident their microbots are capable of effectively passing the BBB.
To dupe the body into accepting the microbots without the immune system stepping in, Wu and his team cleverly dressed up their trojan horse.
First, an E.coli-coated magnetic nanogel was created as the base for the drug delivery microbot.
The team uses an E.coli coating to make the microbot look especially threatening.
When the microbot is suitably fearsome, it is exposed to a neutrophil (an infection-fighting white blood cell) and the trick is complete – the microbot is completely absorbed into the body and gets to work.
‘Neutrobot’ is the term the team
bestowed on the new technology.
To test their hypothesis, the team used a mouse brain tumour stand-in.
This neutrobot nanogel base was loaded with paclitaxel, a drug used in cancer treatment. They injected the loaded neutrobot cocktail into the tail of the stand-in mouse.
To control the pathing of the neutrobot inside the mouse, the scientists housed the mouse inside a rotating magnetic field.
Wu and his team said that the
merger of real-time position tracking and vision-based feedback enables a new
system of self-pathing along a planned route.
The team reported that the trial was a success – the neutrobot performed well, even permeating the tricky BBB obstacle to deliver the drug to the tumour region.
Although successful, the team says there are many more tests to conduct before human trials would be considered.
One issue is tracking individual neutrobots. At the moment, employing fluorescence imaging and MRI technology, the team can only track clusters of neutrobots but not individuals.
Wu and his colleagues believe that, once some kinks are ironed out and tracking is more refined, their neutrobots may soon work on human patients.