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Microscopic 'Swimming' Robots Deliver Cancer Drugs

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By Nick Tate   |   Friday, 04 Dec 2015 01:47 PM

In a development that seems to have been inspired by the 1960s sci-fi thriller “Fantastic Voyage,” British researchers have created microscopic swimming robots that have the potential to deliver cancer drugs and other medications to targeted locations inside the body.

The advance, reported by University of Sheffield engineers in the journal Nature Communications, involves the use of tiny bead-like devices — the size of human cells and bacteria — that can be guided by physical structures while swimming inside blood and other bodily fluids.

The breakthrough opens the door to using structures in the body to guide drug delivery, the researchers said.

"When you're dealing with objects on such a small scale, we found that although our method of moving the devices using a coating and chemical reaction worked very effectively, it was difficult to control its direction, due to other molecules in the fluid jostling it,” said researcher Stephen Ebbens.

"We've been working on ways to overcome this and control the movement of the devices along a path using physical structures to direct them. We are now working on applications for using these devices in the body, in the shorter term focusing on using them for medical diagnosis."

These devices, which are about a hundredth of the diameter of a human hair, could not only be used to deliver cancer drugs to a specific location inside the body, but also to diagnose diseases in blood samples. They could for instance detect proteins indicating cardiovascular problems or circulating tumor cells signaling the spread of cancer.

In addition to medical applications, the devices could be used to detect contamination in environmental samples or deliver chemicals to areas affected by oil spills, by using crevices in rocks as the structural guide.

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British researchers have created microscopic "swimming" robots that have the potential to deliver cancer drugs and other medications to targeted locations inside the body.
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