Microrobots successfully deliver cancer-fighting drugs to tumors: Study

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Scientists have developed magnetically-controlled microscopic robots that can kill cancer cells.

Researchers from Germany’s Max Planch Institute for Intelligent Systems have combined robotics with biology to equip bacteria with artificial components to construct cancer fighting biohybrid microrobots, the institute said in a statement on Friday.


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These microscopic robots reportedly fight off diseased cells and keep the healthy ones intact.

“Imagine we inject such bacteria-based microrobots into a cancer patient’s body, one of the study’s authors Birgul Akolpoglu, a PhD student at the institute, said.

“With a magnet, we could precisely steer the particles towards the tumor. Once enough microrobots surround the tumor, we point a laser at the time and by that trigger the drug release. Now, not only is the immune system triggered to wake up, but the additional drugs also help destroy the tumor.”

The scientists harnessed the power of intestinal E. coli bacteria, often deemed as the “superheroes” of the microbial world.

The fast, versatile swimmers have advanced sensors and can permeate liquids and highly vicious tissues. Bacteria are drawn to chemical gradients like low oxygen levels and high acidity, both prevalent in areas near tumor tissue.

Treating cancer by injecting bacteria in proximity is known as bacteria mediated tumor therapy.

The team added magnetic particles and spherical shaped carriers called liposomes that carry the medication into the microrobots.

They successfully conducted experiments on miniature lab-grown tumors, including L-shaped channel with two compartments on each end, with one tumor “spheroid” in each, and a narrower set-up which resembled blood vessels.

The microrobots also successfully traveled through thick layers of collagen gel which resembled cancerous tissue, ranging from soft to medium to material.

Once the team added a magnetic field, the bacteria managed to move to the other end as it had a higher force, melting liposome and releasing enclosed drugs.

“This on-the-spot delivery would be minimally invasive for the patient, painless, bear minimal toxicity and the drugs would develop their effect where needed and not inside the entire body,” study co-author Dr. Yunus Alapan said.

“Bacteria based biohybrid microrobots with medical functionalities could one day battle cancer more effectively. It is a new therapeutic approach not too far away from how we treat cancer today,” added co-author Dr. Metin Sitti.

“The therapeutic effects of medical microrobots in seeking and destroying tumor cells could be substantial. Our work is a great example of basic research that aims to benefit our society.”

The research was published in the journal Science Advances on Friday.

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