advancing microrobots deliver chemo medicine directly to cancer cells


Researchers have developed a way to transport chemotherapy drugs directly to cancer cells via microrobots. At present, most patients receiving chemotherapy receive the cancer-killing drugs either intravenously or orally, both of which cause a number of unpleasant side effects. this new technology, tested by jiawen li, li zhang, dong wu and colleagues, can revolutionize cancer treatment by delivering drugs only where they are needed.

advancing microrobots deliver chemo medicine directly to cancer cells
the fish’s microrobot had an adjustable mouth that opened and closed


in a proof-of-concept study, the researchers tested three micro-robots shaped like different small animals: a fish, a crab and a butterfly. the microrobots were 4D-printed from pH-responsive hydrogel using a femtosecond laser. uses the same principles as 3D print4D printing creates a three-dimensional object that can change its shape. in this case, the microscopic ‘animals’ changed their shape when exposed to a change in pH level – cancer cells are generally more acidic than normal cells.

the researchers also needed a method to guide the little robots. to achieve this, they immersed the microrobots in a suspension of iron oxide nanoparticles, making them magnetic. controlled by a magnet, the ‘fish’ was guided through a petri dish filled with artificial blood vessels. when the fish came to a more acidic portion of the solution, it reacted by opening its mouth to release a chemotherapeutic agent, which killed the cells closest to it.

advancing microrobots deliver chemo medicine directly to cancer cells
the team also got the ‘crab’ to grab a microparticle, transport it and release it

before the micro-robots reach an actual patient, they must be made even smaller to navigate real blood vessels, and an appropriate imaging method must be identified to track their movements in the body.

the research was published in a paper entitled ‘environmentally adaptive form-morphing microrobots for localized cancer cell treatment’ in the journal ACS nano.

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