Cancer is presently one of the most feared afflictions on planet Earth. With an estimated 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women expected to develop cancer in their lifetimes, such is understandable. Fortunately, scientists are making progress in the plight to find a “cure” to the disease.
At Durham University, researchers have developed tiny nanomachines that drill into cancer cells and kill them in just 60 seconds. The tiny spinning molecules are driven by light, and spin so fast they burrow their way through the cell linings when activated. The scientists’ work was published in the journal Nature.
In one test, the nanomachines took between one and three minutes to break through the outer membrane of a prostate cancer cell. The nanomachines then proceeded to kill the cell. The Telegraph reports that the invention’s “motor” is a rotor-like chain of atoms. It moves in one direction and rotates at a very high speed.
“We are moving towards realising our ambition to be able to use light activated nanomachines to target cancer cells such as those in breast tumours and skin melanomas, including those that are resistant to existing chemotherapy,” said Dr. Robert Pal of Durham University. “Once developed, this approach could provide a potential step change in non-invasive cancer treatment and greatly improve survival rates and patient welfare globally.”
To develop the nanomachines, scientists created several kinds of light-activated motorized molecules designed to hone in on specific cells. Part of their discovery was realizing that nanomachines need to spin at two to three million times per second. At this speed, they can overcome nearby obstacles and outpace natural Brownian motion, which is the “erratic movement of microscopic particles suspended in fluid.” Potential applications for the nanomachine include blasting open tumor membranes or even carrying therapeutic agents into cells.
“These nanomachines are so small that we could park 50,000 of them across the diameter of a human hair, yet they have the targeting and actuating components combined in that diminutive package to make molecular machines a reality for treating disease,” said Dr. James Tour of Rice University in Houston, US. ”In this study we have shown that we can drill into cells, animal cells, human cells using these nanomachines, they will attach to the surface and then a light will be shone upon them and they will drill right into the cell.
He added, “For many years I never had envisioned the nanomachines being used medically, I thought they were way too small, because they are much much smaller than a cell, but now this work has really changed my thoughts on this and I think therapeutically this will be a whole new way to treat patients, it’s going to be an excellent application for cancer treatment, not just for killing of cells but for the treatment of cells, interacting with the human body using molecular machines.”
The scientists are continuing their research by experimenting on microorganisms and small fish. Their hope is to move on to rodents and eventually, human trials.
IMAGE CREDIT:eraxion / 123RF Stock Photo
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