By Rick Richardson
Chinese researchers have developed a method using microscopic robots to kill cancerous tumors and stifle future growth.
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The study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology uses nanotechnology to deliver thrombin, an enzyme that helps blood to clot.
The thrombin was placed using DNA origami, a process in which DNA is folded into specific shapes. In this case, the DNA-based nanorobot was formed into a hollow tube carrying thrombin, researchers said. When the nanorobot would come in contact with the tumor, the tube automatically would open and deliver the thrombin.
The scientists behind this study tested the delivery bots by injecting them into mice with human breast cancer tumors. Within 48 hours, the bots had successfully grabbed onto vascular cells at the tumor sites, causing blood clots in the tumor’s vessels and cutting off their blood supply, leading to their death.
Remarkably, the bots did not cause clotting in other parts of the body, just the cancerous cells they’d been programmed to target, according to the paper.
The scientists were also able to demonstrate the bots did not cause clotting in the healthy tissues of Bama miniature pigs, calming fears over what might happen in larger animals.
Nanotechnology is viewed as a promising option for treating cancer. It involves work in science, engineering or tech of objects the size of nanometers. For perspective, a human hair is between 80,000 and 100,000 nanometers wide, according to the National Nanotechnology Initiative.
"Our data show that DNA nanorobots represent a promising strategy for precise drug delivery in cancer therapy," read an excerpt from the study.
The goal, say the scientists, is to eventually prove these bots can do the same thing in humans that’s been done in animals. Of course, more work needs to be done before human trials can begin.
Regardless, this is a huge breakthrough in cancer research. Using chemotherapy to destroy every cell just to get at the cancer cells is barbaric in comparison. Using targeted drugs is also not as exact as merely cutting off blood supply and killing the cancer on the spot. Should this new technique gain approval for use on humans in the near future, it could have impressive effects on those with the disease.