Nanobots in the Bloodstream

Nanobots in the BloodstreamDive, dive, Captain! Aortic valve closing ahead, take the second right past the left ventricle and head for the pulmonary artery. Set course for the left lung and acquire target Squamous Cell Lung Carcinoma. Seek and destroy!

Sound like something out of the projected 2010 movie remake of Isaac Asimov’s science-fiction thriller Fantastic Voyage? A microscopic-sized vessel injected into the bloodstream to destroy a lung tumor? Researchers at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, in Canada, have created such a vessel using live, swimming bacteria coupled to polymer beads. Led by professor of computer engineering Sylvain Martel, they have successfully steered these nanobots through the carotid artery of a living pig at 10 centimeters per second using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Their latest research shows that they can do this with human blood vessels as well. The bacteria bots contain magnetic particles and swim using tiny corkscrew-like tails, or flagella.

The beads can be modified to deliver cancer-killing drugs, but the current in larger blood vessels would be too strong for bacteria-powered beads without a larger vehicle. Such technology exists today in microscale robots (< 100 um). Based on preliminary experimentation, Martel is confident that a stealth seek and destroy mission could be completed against a tumor before the body’s immune system wipes out the bacteria.

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