Nanorobot may aid fight against cancer

Re­search team de­vel­ops tiny de­vice to tar­get spe­cific cells in the body

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By DARAWANG in Hong Kong dara@chi­nadai­

A re­search team from the University of Hong Kong has de­vel­oped the world’s first light-guided nanorobot, a sub­mi­cro­scopic de­vice with the po­ten­tial to travel through the blood­stream, cur­ing sick­ness.

Some ex­perts say nanorobots as key com­po­nents in sci­en­tific ef­forts to heal med­i­cal con­di­tions. The de­vice’s de­vel­op­ers say has the po­ten­tial to help it re­move tu­mors and block the growth of cancer cells. The tiny ro­bot was de­vel­oped over three years by an eight-member team led by as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Tang Jinyao from the chem­istry de­part­ment of the university.

The de­vice com­pares in size to a hu­man blood cell, with a di­am­e­ter of only 2 to 3 mi­crom­e­ters. In­jected into the hu­man body, it can travel through the blood­stream, with wide ap­pli­ca­tions for bio­med­i­cine.

Guided by light as dim as a Tang Jinyao, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor from the University of Hong Kong ta­ble lamp, the nanorobot can move in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. “The early model could be ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing med­i­ca­tions into cancer cells to block their growth with­out harm­ing nearby cells,” Tang said.

The find­ingswere­pub­lished on Oct 17 in the sci­en­tific jour­nalNa­tureNan­otech­nol­ogy.

Pre­vi­ously, the on­ly­method to re­motely con­trol nanorobots was by in­cor­po­rat­ing a tiny mag­netic field in­side the mo­tor. How­ever, the sin­gle trans­mit­ting di­rec­tion of mag­netism lim­its the va­ri­ety of in­for­ma­tion it can carry.

One of the break­throughs by Tang’s team was to di­rect more pre­cise or­ders to the de­vice through light, be­cause light has more vari­ances in color, di­rec­tion and fo­cal points than a mag­netic field.

The in­spi­ra­tion comes from the move­ment of green al­gae, a sin­gle-celled or­gan­ism that can sense the di­rec­tion and in­ten­sity of light and swim to­ward the source.

Based on this con­cept, the team de­vel­oped the nano­sized ro­bot us­ing two eas­ily ob­tained semi­con­duc­tor ma­te­ri­als — ti­ta­nium diox­ide and sil­i­con — both of which have high light sen­si­tiv­ity.

Both ma­te­ri­als are non­toxic and can be bro­ken down, en­hanc­ing their bio­com­pat­i­bil­ity, Tang said.

In its cur­rent stage, the tiny ro­bot is guided by ul­tra­vi­o­let light, which is eas­ily sensed, but causes ra­di­a­tion, Tang said. The team is ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of the ro­bot be­ing driven by in­frared rays that emit lower energy and thus cause less dam­age.

Func­tion­ing like a so­lar bat­tery, the mo­tor re­quires an aquatic so­lu­tion to pro­duce a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion. The team is look­ing for pos­si­ble chem­i­cal el­e­ments to sim­u­late the blood com­po­nents to en­hance the mo­tor’s com­pat­i­bil­ity in the hu­man body, said Dai Baohu, a PhD stu­dent from the team.

The early model could be ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing med­i­ca­tions into cancer cells to block their growth with­out harm­ing nearby cells.”

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