Canadian researchers combine biology and magnetics to create anti-cancer nanorobots

The major side effects of delivering anti-cancer drugs, systemically, has warranted a more refined targeted approach. Now researchers say they have the answer by successfully targeting cancer cells with nanorobotic agents. The results may hold promise for refined chemotherapy in patients suffering from various cancers.

The research was a colloboration between the three French-Canadian institutes Polytechnique Montreal, Universite de Montreal and McGill University. The findings were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Systemic delivery of chemotherapeutic agents has long been used in oncology but also has major shortfalls: that of unspecific targeting of all tissue, which explains the harsh side-effects of such drugs on healthy tissue. Targeted medicine for this purpose has long been working hard to address this.

Sylvain Martel who heads the research project, says their team’s nanorobotic agents can seek and find cancer cells, propelling themselves deep inside the tumors.

The nanorobotic agents consist of over a 100 million flagellated bacteria (giving them their self-propulsion), packaged with a chemotherapeutic payload that is released once the bacteria comes across an oxygen-deficient environment. 

Oxygen-deficient, or hypoxic, areas of the tumour are classically associated with resistance towards radiotherapy, amongst other traditions therapies. This approach ensures the drug is released at the site.

In designing the nanorobots, the researchers combine this biological system with magnets, which ensure the particles move in the direction of a magnetic field. In this way, the clinician or surgeon can directly control the transport of the drug to the tumour using a computer-guided magnetic field.

"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," Martel said. "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."

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