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Tiny robots steered through blood flow by magnetics to deliver drugs to cancer cells

13 July 2020

Against the Flow

Salmon swim upstream, battling against all odds, because the prize at the end – a safe place to lay their eggs – is so great. Now scientists are trying to imbue microscopic nanorobots with the spirit of salmon to carry their own special package against the tide in our body’s veins to previously unreachable tumours. The microbots (shown first in the video) are half covered in gold material that lets researchers steer them with a magnetic field, and half covered in special anti-cancer drugs, ready to be deployed once they reach their destination. The drugs latch on to cancer cells (top, later in the video), but pass by others (bottom), meaning they can fight the disease without damaging anything else. The bots roll along the inside edge of veins where blood flow is slower, but have only been tested in artificial veins. The next step is releasing them in the real thing.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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