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Cell drilling molecules to help in treatments
September 12, 2017, 11:49 am

Scientists at Durham University in the UK collaborated with their peers at Rice University in Houston and at North Carolina State University to create several motorized molecules that can home in on specific cells, and then be activated by light sources to open cell membranes.

The motors can be designed to target and then either tunnel through a cell's lipid bilayer membrane to deliver drugs or other payloads or disrupt the 8-10 nanometer-wide cell, thereby killing the cell.

The nanomachines are so small that 50,000 of them could be placed across the diameter of a human hair, yet they have the targeting and actuating components to make molecular machines a reality for treating disease.

Nanomachines are expected to help target cancers like breast tumors and melanomas that resist existing chemotherapy. Once developed, this approach could provide a potential step change in noninvasive cancer treatment and greatly improve survival rates and patient welfare globally.

Researchers tested motors on live cells, including human prostate cancer cells. Experiments showed that without an ultraviolet trigger, motors could locate specific cells of interest but stayed on the targeted cells' surface and were unable to drill into the cells. When triggered, however, the motors rapidly drilled through the membranes.

Test motors designed to target prostate cancer cells broke through their membranes from outside and killed them within one to three minutes of activation. Videos of the cells showed increased blebbing — bubbling of the membrane — within minutes after activation.

Smaller molecular motors were harder to track but proved better at getting into cells quickly upon ultraviolet activation, disrupting their membranes and killing them. Motorless control molecules were unable to kill cells upon ultraviolet exposure, which eliminated thermal absorption of ultraviolet light as the cause of disruption, according to the researchers.

They expect the rotors may eventually be activated by two-photon absorption, near-infrared light or radio frequencies, which would make the technique more viable for in-vivo treatment; this would pave the way toward the establishment of novel, easy and cost-effective photodynamic therapy.

The researchers are already proceeding with experiments in microorganisms and small fish to explore the efficacy in-vivo. The hope is to move this swiftly to rodents to test the efficacy of nanomachines for a wide range of medicinal therapies.


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