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Researchers observed how nanorobots work together

Nanobots are machines whose components are developed to a millionth of a millimeter and can be designed to have the ability to move autonomously in certain fluids.

A team of researchers from the Catalan Institute of Bioengineering (IBEC) observed for the first time the behavior of a group of nanorobots in live mice, revealing a coordinated movement similar to a school of fish.

Although they are still in the research and development stage, very important advances are being made to make them a reality in medical practice, especially in high precision tasks.

The applications of this technology range from the identification of tumor cells to the delivery of drugs in specific corners of the human body. Among the most promising nanorobot systems are those powered by catalytic enzymes. However, understanding the collective behavior of these nanorobots is critical to moving toward clinical practice.

Monitoring the joint work of nanorobots

This research was carried out by observing in vitro experiments, monitoring the nanorobots using optical microscopy and positron emission tomography. Both technologies allowed us to contemplate how nanoparticles mix with fluids and can migrate together through complex paths.

The nanorobots, designed at IBEC for autonomous displacement, were administered intravenously to a group of mice in the bladder. These have urease built in and can use urea as fuel, allowing them to move easily in this environment.

The team of scientists concluded that the distribution of nanodevices in the mouse bladder is uniform, indicating that the collective movement is coordinated and efficient.

An important milestone for working with nanorobots

This work was carried out by researchers led by Samuel Sánchez, ICREA Research Professor and his team “Intelligent Biological Nano Devices” at the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), in collaboration with the Radiochemistry and Nuclear Imaging Research group of CIC biomaGUNE led by Jordi Llop and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).

“The fact of having been able to see the collective and synchronized movement of nanorobots, and to follow them within a living organism, is of great relevance, since millions of them are needed to treat specific pathologies such as, for example, tumor alterations”, declared Samuel Sánchez, leader of this investigation, on the importance of this milestone.

“We have shown, for the first time, that nanobots can be monitored in vivo using positron emission tomography (PET), a highly sensitive non-invasive technique currently used in the clinical setting”added Jordi Llop, also a member of this research team.

“This is the first time that we can directly visualize the active diffusion of biocompatible nanorobots within biological fluids in vivo. The ability to monitor their activity within the body and the fact that they show a more homogeneous distribution could revolutionize the way we understand nanoparticle-based drug administration and diagnosis approaches “Tania Patiño, co-author of the article, also commented.

These “nanorobot swarms” could be especially useful in viscous media, where diffusion of a drug is often limited by poor angiogenesis, such as in the gastrointestinal tract, eyes, or joints. “In fact, as different enzymes can be incorporated into the motors, nanorobots could be made to measure according to the objective within the body, adapting the device to the fuel accessible in the environment where they must move “, concluded Samuel Sánchez.

The study is titled “Monitoring the collective behavior of enzymatic nanomotors in vitro and in vivo by PET-CT” and is available for consultation in the academic journal Science Robotics.

Header Image: IBEC

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Lenny Li

I started to play with tech since middle school. Smart phones, laptops and gadgets are all about my life. Besides, I am also a big fan of Star War. May the force be with you!

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