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Algae hope for diagnostic nanobots

Thursday November 23rd, 2017

Remote controlled nanobots could be engineered from algae to make them biodegradeable and useful for medicine, researchers reported last night.

The nanobots were developed by Professor Li Zhang at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, together with experts at Manchester University, UK, from spirulina algae.

The algae are thought to have been a source of nourishment in central America at the time of the Aztecs. They are biodegradable and available for sale as a food substitute in health food shops.

The team investigated the compound's biodegradability to develop nanobots that degrade at a predictable rate due to an iron magnetic coating. Thanks to this feature, the nanorobots can be remotely controlled with high precision using magnetic fields to target tumours and release anti-cancer drugs.

Details appear on 22 November in Science Robotics. Professor Kostas Kostarelos from Manchester University said: "Rather than fabricate a functional microrobot from scratch using intricate laboratory techniques and processes, we set out to directly engineer smart materials in nature, which are endowed with favourable functionalities for medical applications owing to their intrinsic chemical composition.

"For instance, because these biohybrid bots have a naturally fluorescent biological interior and magnetic iron-oxide exterior, we can track and actuate a swarm of those agents inside the body quite easily using fluorescence imaging and magnetic resonance imaging."

He added that the microrobots can sense changes in environments associated with the illness onset, and adds: "We must now develop this technology further so we are able to fine tune this image-guided therapy and create a proof of concept for the engineering of multifunctional microrobotic and nanorobotic devices."

The team say they need to improve the nanobots' motion tracking, biocompatibility, biodegradation, and diagnostic and therapeutic effects.

Zhang, L. et al. Multifunctional biohybrid magnetite microrobots for imaging-guided therapy. Science Robotics 22 November 2017; doi: 10.1126/scirobotics.aaq1155

Tags: Asia | General Health | South America | UK News

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