We have shared many advancements in cancer research this year, such as the development of whole-genome sequencing, as well as various blood tests that can identify many types of cancer to help catch cancer earlier.
Now, there’s a new and exciting addition: 3D-printed robotic animals that can deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to cancer inside a patient’s body.
The new microrobots, which are made of hydrogel, are 3D printed into animal shapes ranging from fish to crab to butterflies. The microrobots are steered with magnets and are only triggered to release their drug payload when they sense the acidic environment around a tumor. The team adjusts the printing density in some areas, such as the fish’s mouth or the edges of the crab’s claws, so that they can open or close in response to acidity levels in their environment. The final step is for the microrobots to be submerged in a solution with iron oxide nanoparticles to make them magnetic.
The final product is microrobots that can carry drug nanoparticles and be guided towards a location using magnets, where they would then treat cancer directly.
In the lab, the researchers simulated blood vessels that and led the fish microrobot to a cluster of cancer cells. The team made the area around the cancer cells slightly more acidic, and when the microrobot approached the cluster, it opened its mouth and projected the drugs straight onto the cancer cells and killed them.
The next step for the research team is to make the tiny bots even smaller and to develop a way to image and track them through the body. If the research continues on this promising course, there could soon be a multitude of little animal bots swimming, scuttling, and rolling through our veins to directly treat cancerous cells, which would reduce side effects and improve treatment efficiency.
Source study: ACS Nano—Environmentally adaptive shape-morphing microrobots for localized cancer cell treatment
Source image: New Atlas/Jiawen Li et al