An unprecedented breakthrough has been made in the area of biotechnology. This doesn’t come as a surprise, as we have been experiencing rapid development in the application of technology to biological processes in the recent years.
A research team led by two professors (Joseph Wang and Liangfang Zhang) from the Department of NanoEngineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering have developed microscopic robots that are capable of swimming through blood to remove harmful bacteria and the toxins they produce.
These microscopic robots are also known as nanorobots which are about 25 times smaller than the width of a human hair have created a safe and efficient way to detoxify and decontaminate the body biological fluids.
How It Works
The nanorobots are built using gold nanowires coated by fusion of platelet and red blood cell membranes with ultrasound as a source of power. The fusion of these cell membranes enables the microscopic robots to handle the operations of these two separate cells at once. As platelets, the nanorobots targets and bind pathogens like bacteria and as red blood cells, they absorb and neutralize the toxins produced by the bacteria. This fusion also protects the nanorobots from experiencing biofouling, a process in which proteins accumulates on the surface of foreign objects and prevent them from functioning normally.
According to Berta Esteban-Fernández de Ávila, a postdoctoral scholar in Wang’s research group, “Combining platelet and red blood cell membranes into each nanorobot coating is synergistic—platelets target bacteria, while red blood cells target and neutralize the toxins those bacteria produce.”
In making the nanorobots, the engineers first separated complete membranes from platelets and red blood cells and later applied high-frequency sound waves to fuse the membranes together. The membranes still retain their original cell surface protein functions as they were removed from organic cells. Using a specialized surface chemistry, the fused membranes are then coated onto gold nanowires.
Esteban-Fernández de Ávila further stated that “the idea is to create multifunctional nanorobots that can perform as many different tasks at once.”
Testing The Nanorobots
The nanorobots respond to ultrasound with the help of their gold coated body, which enables them to swim fast through blood without the use of chemical fuel. This rapid movement aids them to blend efficiently with their targets and speed up detoxification.
Leveraging on the power of the ultrasound, the nanorobots are capable of travelling up to 35 micrometers per second in blood. Upon being tested on blood samples contaminated with MRSA (an antibiotic-resistant bacterial strain of Staphylococcus aureus) and their toxins, the nanorobots were able to reduce the number of bacteria and toxins in the sample to three less than the actual amount in five minutes.
According to one of the lead researchers Joseph Wang, “this is a proof-of-concept platform for diverse therapeutic and biodetoxification applications.”
Although the nanorobots have only been used in the treatment of MRSA infections, the scientists are still focused on furthering the research to generally detoxifying biological fluids.
Esteban-Fernández de Ávila supported this by stating that “platelets can bind both grams positive and negative bacteria so this membrane coating can serve to treat multiple infections.”
The research team is planning on testing the technology in live animals, to further improve it. They are also researching on biodegradable materials as components of the nanorobots instead of gold.
As Wang said, “using a hybrid coating by combining the properties of red blood cells and platelets, we can create multifunctional, all-in-one nanorobots that are capable of both toxin and pathogen removal for efficient detoxification and decontamination for defense and biomedical applications.”