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Successful Delivery Of Anti-Cancer Drugs To Tumors By Microrobots

One of the difficulties in treating cancer with chemotherapy is that most current chemotherapy techniques require systemic delivery of the d...

One of the difficulties in treating cancer with chemotherapy is that most current chemotherapy techniques require systemic delivery of the drug. When drugs are delivered systemically, they travel throughout the body to the specific cells that need them, causing various side effects to chemotherapy. Many cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy will tell you that the side effects of the drugs make them feel worse than the cancer itself . Researchers are finding ways to deliver cancer-fighting drugs to fight tumors without causing side effects throughout the body.

Researchers have now created tiny, shape-changing microrobots that can deliver drugs directly to cancer cells where they are needed. These tiny robots, shaped like tiny fish, use magnets to guide them directly to cancer cells. Once in the right place in the body where the cancer needs to be treated, a change in pH triggers the robots to open their fish-like mouths and deliver the drug.

In the past, microscale robots smaller than 100 microns were designed to manipulate small objects. However, they cannot change shape, which is required for complex tasks such as releasing drugs. Another challenge with this type of robot in the past is that while some groups have been able to design 4D-printed objects, they can only perform simple movements, changing shape in response to specific stimuli.

In new research, a team of scientists has developed deformable microrobots that are guided by magnets to a specific part of the body. Because tumors are acidic, the team designed their robot to change shape in response to the lowering pH. The first microrobots were made in the shape of crabs, butterflies or fish using a pH-responsive hydrogel. The team was able to tune the printing density in specific areas of the robot, such as along the edges of crab claws, butterfly wings, or fish mouths, to encode pH-responsive shape changes. 

To make the microrobots magnetic, they were placed in a suspension of iron oxide nanoparticles. Throughout the testing process, the team was able to demonstrate the capabilities of different types of robots. The fish-shaped robot has an adjustable mouth that can be opened and closed. The shape was also found to steer by mimicking blood vessels to reach cancer cells in specific areas of the dish.

When the pH of the surrounding solution in the dish drops, the fish opens its mouth to deliver chemotherapy drugs, which can kill nearby cancer cells. While this study demonstrates the effectiveness of the concept, much work remains to be done before any potential human trials. Although microrobots are small, they need to be even smaller in order to navigate the body's blood vessels. The team also had to develop imaging methods to identify the robots in the body and track their movements.

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