Science fiction authors and futurologists have been predicting that nanotechnology could be a cure for most, if not all, of humanity’s woes, for decades. That vision is one step closer to reality, as researchers from Rice University, Durham University in the Uk, and North Carolina State University have reported exciting results from recent experiments using nanobots to combat cancer cells.
Nanobots, roughly one-billionth of a meter wide – 1/50,000th of the width of a human hair – are injected into the bloodstream, where they search for rogue cells. When activated with an ultraviolet trigger, the nanobots spin at a rate of 2 to 3 million rotations per second, allowing them to drill through a cancer cell’s outer membrane, in about a minute, to deliver treatment inside the cancer cell.
Cancer-fighting nanobots are expected to be useful for cancers resistant to chemotherapy or other treatments. According to a statement from Rice University: “These nanomachines are so small that we could park 50,000 of them across the diameter of a human hair, yet they have the targeting and actuating components combined in that diminutive package to make molecular machines a reality for treating disease,” Tour said.
The researchers found it takes at least a minute for a motor to tunnel through a membrane. “It is highly unlikely that a cell could develop a resistance to molecular mechanical action,” Tour said. Pal expects nanomachines will help target cancers like breast tumors and melanomas that resist existing chemotherapy. “Once developed, this approach could provide a potential step change in noninvasive cancer treatment and greatly improve survival rates and patient welfare globally,” he said.
The Pal lab at Durham tested motors on live cells, including human prostate cancer cells. Experiments showed that without an ultraviolet trigger, motors could locate specific cells of interest but stayed on the targeted cells’ surface and were unable to drill into the cells. When triggered, however, the motors rapidly drilled through the membranes.”