Cancer has been a lifelong battle for as long as humanity, as a species, has existed on this planet we happened to emerge on. In the past, it was close to incurable but, nowadays, we can treat it and – sometimes – get rid of it in some patients. One major drawback to treatment, however, was the time it took for the necessary medication to reach the site which had to be acted on.

Gladly, due to a new research study conducted by Ana C. Hortelão and Tania Patiño along with 3 others in 2017 at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, the ways in which medical professionals deliver the necessary medication to their intended destinations is about to change drastically.

The principles of nanobots – Tiny and mighty

The first questions that this particular subject probably caused in some people’s minds would be: “What even are nanobots?” Along with: “Aren’t those, like, sci-fi stuff?”.

The answer to the first one would be that nanobots are teeny-tiny machines (or, robots, if you want to make it sound more exciting) that are at about the scale of a nanometer or less (which is, as a number, 10 to the power of -9 cm or smaller), which can be used for things such as drug delivery or tissue repair in the human body.

The answer to the second question - the one regarding sci-fi - would be that, no, nanobots are neither impossible nor are they fiction! The field of nanorobotics is alive, well, and absolutely bustling with activity from all sorts of professionals gradually improving this incredible tech day after day.

The varied uses of nanobots – Target acquired

They are able to, most notably, deliver substances where they are needed and, in some studies, repair damaged body tissues to an extent. In multiple studies, it has been found that nanobots have also shown the potential of repairing damaged tissues, or even getting rid of certain infected tissues and making it easier for the immune system to deal with them.

In the case of cancer, nanobots have demonstrated incredible efficiency when it comes to drug delivery to the target area – which is useful as anything, especially in the battle for the time that the disease has waged on both the patient and the doctors.

Cancer drugs and nanobots – Biological bullseye

The silica-based nanobots (also known as “nanomotors”) used in the study mentioned in the introduction were able to self-propel themselves and they are, in turn, powered by the enzyme known as urease. At its origins, urease is an enzyme which can be found in numerous bacteria, algae, plants and non-vertebrates. Most notably, it can also be found in the soil!

In short, it’s pretty easy to get your hands on overall.

The fact that they are able to self-propel themselves inside a certain environment has been verified by optical tracking as well as dynamic light scattering analysis. Surprisingly enough, the nano-delivery drivers have been able to achieve an overall four-fold increase in drug release, the drug in question being doxorubicin, after just 6 hours when compared to their passive counterparts.

Nanorobots and laboratory trials – The effects on HeLa cells

This particular research study has been carried in the laboratory using HeLa cells. In other words, the nanobots themselves were ultimately tested against well-known lab-grown cervical cancer specimens coming from an “immortal cell line”, and they performed incredibly well – better than expected, in fact.

It has been noted that the use of Dox-loaded nanobots has presented a very much noticeable enhanced anti-cancer efficiency – at least when it came to HeLa cells. This is most likely to arise from the synergistic effect of the enhanced drug release as well as the high ammonia concentrations produced by the urea substrate which was used.

Synergistic, as a word, means that the interaction or, in this case, cooperation between two substances working together to produce a combined effect which is greater than their original separate effects.

On cancer and nanobots – The conclusion Overall, the study has noted that a significantly higher content of Dox could be detected inside the HeLa cells on which the nanobots were tested after just 1, 4, 6 and 24 hours incubation with the presence of active nanobots when compared to passive Dox-loaded nanoparticles.

In other words, the nanobots did a splendid job and passed the HeLa test with flying colours, especially when compared with their passive, less sophisticated counterparts.

The mentioned improvement in overall targeted drug delivery efficiency, which was noted in the carried-out laboratory tests, achieved by the enzyme-powered nanobots may hold a respectable amount of potential, especially when it comes to their future use in biomedical contexts as substrate-triggered releases of needed drugs in certain locations in the human body.