Tiny robots made of seaweed swim through the lung fluids of mice, delivering antibiotics directly to bacteria that cause a deadly form of pneumonia.
It’s happening now in the labs at UC San Diego and it shows the huge potential of microrobotics. Nanoparticles, loaded with drugs, are attached to the microrobots and introduced into the lungs.
“They can actively swim in the body fluid, dive into the thick part of the tissue, and carry a lot of these therapeutic payloads to the disease site, and then kill bacteria very effectively,” said nanoengineering professor Liangfang Zhang. , one of the principal investigators.
Zhang said the results of the experiment were spectacular. Conventionally medicated mice died within days.
“But when we loaded the drugs into our formulation – the nanoparticle and the algae system – we found that all of the animals survived,” he said. “We achieved a remarkable 100% survival rate from the study.”
Anyone who has swallowed an aspirin knows a very conventional way of administering medication. The drug is ingested and transported throughout the body.
“You take the pill and everything is passive. The drug progresses slowly by diffusion,” said Joseph Wang, a distinguished professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego.
“By having dynamic active delivery, we accelerate targeted delivery to the right place.”
Wang’s lab at UCSD shows many examples of microrobots, designed to navigate the canals and cavities of the body. The algae robot is organic, and swims with its flagella. Another robot, made from zinc, reacts with gastric fluid and generates hydrogen gas, which propels it like a real rocket.
Wang points out that the algal robot is not attracted to bacteria, but that they move so efficiently through lung fluids that they significantly improve drug dispersion. Wang actually loaded robots into pills, including aspirin.
“What we showed with pigs, actually, and showed that when you have an active labor, there’s much better blood absorption,” Wang said.
The purpose of the research, of course, is not to treat pigs or mice, but humans. Zhang said the study of algae robots in the lungs is very innovative and experimental, and human trials are still a long way off.
“We have demonstrated the feasibility of the technology and what I anticipate is that we need to study further to demonstrate efficacy in large animal species,” he said, “before we can translate it into a human study”.