A team of Korean scientists has developed micrometer-sized robots for medical purpose, which track and treat cancer at the same time, for the first time in the world.
The research team led by Park Suk-ho, a professor at the Mechanical Engineering Department at Chonnam National University, announced on July 26 that it has developed the 20-micrometer-sized robots for medical use that combat sold cancers, such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer and pancreatic cancer, by using macrophages injected with anti-cancer drugs.
Although dubbed “robots,” they are actually macrophages, white blood cells that engulf and digest pathogens, part of the human immune system. Using this property, scientists let macrophages devour nanoparticles (NPs) previously injected with anti-cancer drugs, creating cancer combatants.
The robots can play a role as agents for drug delivery, which raise the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs, and immunotherapy, which is known as the safest anti-cancer therapy. Until now, doctors have usually penetrated cancer cells through blood vessels when using NPs as drug delivery agents. However, the existing method has problems that drug molecules can’t travel to the central region of a tumor since the growth rate of cancer cells is faster than the rate of angiogenesis. Moreover, immunotherapy costs a lot and takes a long time.
The new 20-micrometer-sized robots have solved the problems. With magnetic nanoparticles (MNP) which are controlled by magnetic fields outside a patient’s body, the robots reach around a tumor. Then, macrophages infiltrate to the central region of a tumor and kill cancer cells by emitting anti-cancer drugs. It means the robots can provide chemotherapy and immunotherapy using immune cells at the same time.
Professor Park Suk-ho said, “Research on micro-sized robots using immune cells will be a streak of the world’s major robot research for medical purpose in the future. When using immune cells, there are no adverse reaction in the human body. So, it will be used to develop an advanced anti-cancer treatment technology with the combination of magnetic fields-driven technology.”
This research was published online in Scientific Reports, an open access, international science and technology journal published by the Nature.