Researchers from Polytechnique Montréal, Université de Montréal and McGill University have just achieved a spectacular breakthrough in cancer research. They have developed new nanorobotic agents capable of navigating through the bloodstream to administer a drug with precision by specifically targeting the active cancerous cells of tumours. This way of injecting medication ensures the optimal targeting of a tumour and avoids jeopardising the integrity of organs and surrounding healthy tissues. As a result, the drug dosage that is highly toxic for the human organism could be significantly reduced.

“This innovative use of nanotransporters will have an impact not only on creating more advanced engineering concepts and original intervention methods, but it also throws the door wide open to the synthesis of new vehicles for therapeutic, imaging and diagnostic agents,” Dr Sylvain Martel, director of the Polytechnique Montreal Nanorobotics Laboratory, said in a press release.

Describing how the nanorobots work in ‘Nature Nanotechnology’, the researchers write that the nanobots enter tumours and then detect the hypoxic zones – the oxygen-depleted tumour areas – and deliver the drugs to these zones. Hypoxic zones are known to be resistant to most cancer therapies, including radiotherapy.

To navigate around, the bacteria rely on two natural systems: a chain of magnetic nanoparticles and an oxygen-measuring sensor. The nanoparticle chain allows the bacteria to move in the direction of a magnetic field. On the other hand, since proliferating cancer cells consume oxygen, the oxygen sensor leads the nanoparticles to the tumor’s active regions, with low oxygen levels.

The article notes the results of the research done on mice, which were successfully administered nanorobotic agents into colorectal tumours. In the mice, the researchers were able to see the successful guiding of nanobots to a tumour, where drugs were delivered to the right place, suggesting a better method of future cancer treatment. It is hoped that the nanobots can be used as an alternative to chemotherapy. “Chemotherapy, which is so toxic for the entire human body, could make use of these natural nanorobots to move drugs directly to the targeted area, eliminating the harmful side effects while also boosting its therapeutic effectiveness,” Martel said.

This is not the first use of nanobots in cancer research. But there are also many other uses of nanobots for the benefit of mankind and our environment.

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Did you know!

• 41 new species are discovered by scientists every single day.

• The word ‘scientist’ first appeared in 1883.

• Scientists finally concluded that the chicken came first, not the egg – because the protein which makes egg shells is only produced by hens.

• The average number of readers of any given published scientific paper is said to be 0.6.

For more trivia see:

Sound bites

• Radio Mocha is a radio show that deals with all things science. The programme airs every Monday at 1pm on Radju Malta 2 (105.9) with a repeat the week after on Friday at the same time. For more details check out the Facebook page Past uploads can be found on:

• Neuroscientists have identified the neural networks that connect the cerebral cortex to the adrenal medulla, which is responsible for the body’s rapid response in stressful situations. These findings provide evidence for the neural basis of a mind-body connection. Specifically, the findings shed new light on how stress, depression and other mental states can alter organ function and show that there is a real anatomical basis for psychosomatic illness.

• Our increasing reliance on the internet and the ease of access to the vast resource available online is affecting our thought processes for problem solving, recall and learning. In a new article, researchers have found that ‘cognitive offloading’, or the tendency to rely on things like the internet as an aide-mémoire, increases after each use.

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