WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Tomorrow’s medical treatments won’t necessarily just include new fancy drugs, nanomachines and nanobots will play an increasingly important role in helping us all stay fit, healthy, and alive…
Researchers in the UK and the US recently demonstrated single-molecule nanomachines that can independently target diseased cells and then kill them, once activated, by drilling through their cell membranes. Developed by a team at Rice University, Durham University, and North Carolina State University, the single-molecule nanomotors are about one-billionth of a meter wide and spin at 2 to 3 million rotations per second, activated by ultraviolet light, and can also be used to deliver drug treatments directly into the cells themselves, to augment, help or kill them as the case may be.
“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, before adding, “we thought it might be possible to attach these nanomachines to the cell membrane and then turn them on to see what happened.”
Watch them go
The motors, only about a nanometer wide, can be designed to target and then either tunnel through a cell’s lipid bilayer membrane to deliver drugs or other payloads or disrupt the 8-10 nanometer-wide membrane, thereby killing the cell. They can also be functionalised for solubility and for fluorescent tracking, he 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 tumours 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 their nanomachines on live cells, including human prostate cancer cells, and experiments showed that without an ultraviolet trigger, the small machines could still 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 and into the cells. Not only does this, admittedly first stage experiment, hold great promise in the treatment of diseases but I’m also going to wager that there are a lot of people out there that hopes this type of technology doesn’t end up int he wrong hands…