A team of researchers in China recently discovered how the E-coli bacteria can be turned into a hybrid robot that smuggles drugs past the blood-brain barrier by pretending to be white blood cells.
These little robots in disguise represent a breakthrough in our ability to treat diseases such as cancer.
Background: There’s a party going on in our heads 24/7, but the guest list is very exclusive. The Blood-brain barrier, a protective barrier that keeps the rabble away, takes its work very seriously.
In fact, it is difficult for doctors to treat diseases such as some cancers because it is difficult to get drugs past this barrier. When drugs are injected into the bloodstream, they stop at the brain, and sticking needles directly into our skulls is an often undesirable method of delivery.
However, the Chinese team’s new method skips all of that with the old fashioned Trojan horse delivery method.
According to the researchers’ work:
Here we report on a neutrophil-based microrobot (“neutrobot”) that can actively deliver cargo to malignant glioma in vivo.
The neutrobots are constructed by the phagocytosis of Escherichia coli membrane-enveloped, drug-laden magnetic nanogels by natural neutrophils, with the camouflage of the E. coli membrane increasing the efficiency of phagocytosis and also preventing the leakage of drugs within the neutrophils.
With controllable intravascular movement when exposed to a rotating magnetic field, the neutrobots could aggregate autonomously in the brain and then cross the blood-brain barrier through the positive chemotactic movement of neutrobots along the gradient of inflammatory factors.
How it works: Basically, the researchers hollowed out E-coli bacteria (likely not the strain associated with abdominal discomfort) and disguised them as white blood cells. They then used a magnetic field to guide the hybrid robots to the blood-brain barrier, where their forged IDs were apparently held up.
So far this has only been tested on mice. But mouse brains aren’t that far from ours (that’s why we test such things on them), so there’s a lot of room for optimism when it comes to possible human experiments.
Take quickly: That’s great. I became a journalist to write sentences like “Scientists treat cancer by making drug smuggling robots from E-coli bacteria”. It’s an incredible use of robotics and a fantastic solution to an ancient problem.
The idea of having robots perform Trojan attacks on our brains may sound scary to begin with, but if the alternative is to drill a hole in the head, the choice makes a little more sense.
Read the entire article here in the Science Robotics Journal.
Published on April 6, 2021 – 17:26 UTC