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Nanorobots Could Redefine Targeted Cancer Therapies

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These researchers have designed nanorobots capable of being injected into a patient’s bloodstream, and delivering a drug directly into cancerous cells.

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August 17, 2016 | by Sarah Massey, M.Sc.

Targeting tumors using nanorobots could be the future of cancer treatment thanks to research performed at Polytechnique Montréal, Université de Montréal and McGill University. These researchers have designed nanorobots capable of being injected into a patient’s bloodstream, and delivering a drug directly into cancerous cells.

As many chemotherapeutic drugs used today are both cytotoxic to tumor cells and the surrounding healthy tissue, this mode of drug delivery could ensure that only the cancer cells are targeted by the drug. The researchers also believe that these nanorobot agents could reduce the effective dosage necessary, thereby further reducing toxic side-effects of the cancer therapies.

The research – published in the journal, Nature Nanotechnology – was conducted on mice with colorectal tumors. They found that the nanorobots were successful at delivering cancer drugs into the heart of the tumors.

“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,” said Professor Sylvain Martel, the senior author on the paper and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Medical Nanorobotics and Director of the Polytechnique Montréal Nanorobotics Laboratory. “The drug's propelling force was enough to travel efficiently and enter deep inside the tumors.”



One of the most significant challenges in cancer treatment today is in the delivery of drugs into the low-oxygen areas of the tumor, known as hypoxic zones. These areas are caused by increased consumption of oxygen by rapidly dividing tumor cells, and treatments like radiotherapy are ineffective against these hypoxic zones.

The nanorobots on the other hand, are able to enter a tumor and autonomically identify the hypoxic zones. They then release their drug load, essentially destroying the tumor from the inside out.

The nanorobots are able to navigate using a chain of magnetic nanoparticles which attracts them toward a magnetic field. In addition, an oxygen measuring sensor allows the nanotech bacteria to seek out the tumor’s hypoxic zones and remain there.

“This innovative use of nanotransporters will have an impact not only on creating more advanced engineering concepts and original intervention methods, but it also throws the door wide open to the synthesis of new vehicles for therapeutic, imaging and diagnostic agents,” said Martel. “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.”


Keywords: Nanotechnology, Cancer, Chemotherapy


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