Algae nanorobots might soon deliver drugs inside our bodies

Imagine a gaggle of little algae robots maneuvering around inside your body, carrying life-saving medication to target the chemical receptors directly at the point of need rather than an injected medication that has to circulate throughout the body first. Maybe little creepy-crawly feelings emerge. Don't worry, if and when this technology becomes available for humans, these are too small to feel.

In a new scientific article in Nature Materials, "Nanoparticle-modified microrobots for in vivo antibiotic delivery to treat acute bacterial pneumonia," super-mini nanorobots made from algae cells are being used to deliver medicine to hard-to-reach places in the body.

As reported in Eureka Alert, "Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego have developed microscopic robots, called microrobots, that can swim around in the lungs, deliver medication, and be used to clear up life-threatening cases of bacterial pneumonia."

The team is a collaboration between UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering professors, Joseph Wang and Liangfang Zhang. Wang is a world leader in the field of micro- and nanorobotics research, while Zhang is a world leader in developing cell-mimicking nanoparticles for treating infections and diseases."

"The nanoparticles containing the antibiotics are made of tiny biodegradable polymer spheres that are coated with the cell membranes of neutrophils, which are a type of white blood cell. What's special about these cell membranes is that they absorb and neutralize inflammatory molecules produced by bacteria and the body's immune system. This gives the microrobots the ability to reduce harmful inflammation, which in turn makes them more effective at fighting lung infection."

The first experiments were conducted on mice, where "researchers administered the microrobots to the lungs of the mice through a tube inserted in the windpipe. The infections fully cleared up after one week. All mice treated with the microrobots survived past 30 days, while untreated mice died within three days."

The researchers conclude in the full article published in Nature Materials with these hopeful possibilities, "The biohybrid microrobot platform described in this work creates new opportunities for active drug delivery to the lungs of ventilated ICU patients… The algae can also be genetically engineered with functional proteins on their surface to introduce additional functionalities. Besides algae, other microorganisms with specific sensory or targeting capabilities could also be used in the development of autonomous drug delivery vehicles for treating pulmonary diseases."