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Microbots could lead to key medical innovation

By Barry He | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-10-10 09:54
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Microscopic robots have been used for the first time in mice, to deliver medication and cure them of pneumonia, with a 100 percent survival rate.

The so-called microbots swam around the mice's lungs and sent antibiotic nanoparticles directly into infected tissue.

Made from algae cells, nanobots offer a new method for the delivery of antibiotics that could eventually replace expensive and cumbersome IV drips and offer a more efficient and direct way to cure bacterial infections.

In the experiment, nanoengineers from the University of California San Diego coated nanobots in a type of white blood cell called neutrophils, which absorbed inflammation molecules produced by the bacteria and increased the body's ability to fight the infection.

Previous medicines that attempt to target the lungs have faced difficulty because the respiratory tract has evolved defenses to stop inhaled particles. The lungs are well equipped to gently remove invasive debris via tiny hairs called cilia.

Using nanobots to effectively deliver this type of medication would be a huge step forward.

While the concept of treating ourselves by injecting nanobots into our bodies may take some getting used to, the researchers claimed nothing was left in the body after treatment with nanobots, with the immune system breaking down and digesting the algae cells alongside remaining nanoparticles.

Current alternatives, such as IV antibiotic drips, require a dose of the same medicine that is 3,000 times higher than what was used in the delivery by microbots. Not only would this be a cheaper and more efficient option, but side effects would be minimized and, possibly, there would also be a reduced risk of bacterial resistance.

Because the medicine goes exactly where it needs to go, it is not flushed throughout the entire body, which can cause an array of unwanted side-effects.

The sheer variety of molecules that could be attached to nanobot delivery systems in medicine is very promising.

One way in which bacteria grow to become resistant to traditional antibiotics is through the production of a biofilm, a physical barrier that protects them from drugs. Enzymes that can break down this protective barrier could be attached to nanobots, ensuring the film can be broken down and that the bacteria is more vulnerable to secondary antibiotic delivery systems.

Nanomedicine could significantly tilt the battle against diseases in our favor.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how important this technology could become and it played a vital role in the design of mRNA vaccines to treat COVID-19.

Everything from diabetes to cancer is being explored in the realm of nanoparticles, with cancer treatments especially relying upon specific targeting systems while avoiding surrounding healthy tissue.

Research into particles a billionth of a meter in size has never been more important.

The reality of our bodies is that we consist of trillions of cells that are all operating on a nanoscale with each other, and effective treatments in the future must be able to work with the scale at which our biological processes take place. The more precise we can get, and the finer the detail, the more sophisticated the treatments of tomorrow will be.

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