Swimming 'Microbots' Could Speed Meds to Lung Tumors, Early Study Suggests

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Key Takeaways

  • Microscopic robots can deliver chemotherapy directly to lung cancer cells

  • The microbots swim through the lungs to deliver the cancer-killing drugs

  • Lab mice lived longer following treatment with the microbots

FRIDAY, June 14, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have developed microscopic robots capable of swimming through the lungs to deliver chemotherapy directly to lung cancer cells.

In early testing, these microbots  extended the average survival time of lab mice with melanoma that had spread to the lungs, according to a report published June 12 in the journal Science Advances.

“This is a platform technology that can actively and efficiently deliver therapeutics throughout the entire lung tissue to combat different types of deadly diseases in the lungs,” said researcher Liangfang Zhang, a professor of chemical and nano engineering at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

The microbots consist of drug-filled nanoparticles attached to the surface of green algae cells, researchers said.

The algae enables the nanoparticles to swim around inside the lungs, finding and delivering chemotherapy to tumors.

The nanoparticles themselves are made of tiny biodegradable polymer spheres. The particles are loaded with the chemo drug doxorubicin, and then coated with red blood cell membranes.

The red blood cell coating protects the particles from the immune system, explained lead researcher Zhengxing Li, a nanoengineering doctoral student at UCSD.

“It acts as a camouflage,” Li said in a university news release. “This coating makes the nanoparticle look like a red blood cell from the body, so it will not trigger an immune response.”

Mice received the microbots through a small tube inserted into the windpipe. Treated mice experienced an average survival time of 37 days, compared to the 27-day average survival time of untreated mice.

“The active swimming motion of the microrobots significantly improved distribution of the drug to the deep lung tissue, while prolonging retention time,” Li said. “This enhanced distribution and prolonged retention time allowed us to reduce the required drug dosage, potentially reducing side effects while maintaining high survival efficacy.”

However, the research is preliminary and experts note that not all animal research pans out in humans.

The team next plans to test microbot treatment in trials with larger animals, in preparation for future human clinical trials.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about lung cancer.

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, June 12, 2024

What This Means For You

Microscopic robots could deliver chemotherapy directly to lung cancer tumors one day, following further development.

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