A group of South Korean scientists from Chonnam National University became the first to create a nanorobot that can treat cancer.
Unlike chemotherapy, which attacks the entire body and comes with nasty side effects such as damaging healthy cells, nanorobots can seek out cancer cells and destroy them with anticancer drugs while leaving healthy cells alone.
“This research offers a new paradigm of overcoming previously limited ways to diagnose and treat cancer with a nanorobot that can actively move and even deliver anticancer drugs specifically to cancer cells,” Yonhap quoted from a Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning press release.
The technology, which has been named “Bacteriobot,” is a genetically modified non-toxic salmonella bacterium that is attracted to chemicals released by cancel cells.
“First of all, the main feature of Bacteriobot is that the robot has a sensing function to diagnose the cancer, and it’s attacking the cancer itself as it uses the bacteria’s brain while moving toward the tumor region with its flagella,” the director of robot research initiative at Chonnam National University, Park Jong-Oh, told Reuters.
Bacteriobot can only detect solid cancers such as breast and colorectal tumors, but scientists hope that they can advance the system in order to treat other deadly diseases.
The scientists’ development follows a breakthrough made in 2012 by researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University who managed to develop nanorobots that can target lymphoma and leukemia cells. The experiment was done using 100 billion robots in a petri dish. Trillions of nanorobots are necessary for live animal trials.
“People already know about using antibodies to kill cells,” said Shawn Douglas, a technology fellow at the Wyss Institute. “The selective targeting and exposing the payload, that’s the big novel thing.”
Other scientists at Duke University and the University of Rome published a paper last October on their research into nanorobots that contain medicine that can be opened and closed based on the surrounding temperatures.
Although the South Korean scientists have patented their nanorobot in the United States, Japan and the European Union, it may be a while before the technology can be given the green light for human use.
“Our medical nanorobot has very high efficiency as an anti-cancer treatment by selectively attacking cancer cells,” said Park. “In this regard, we have introduced a new paradigm in treating cancer, and I think the technology will further invigorate anti-cancer treatment.”