Nanotechnology has exploded in recent years, with research growing and the establishment of new and exciting applications that exploit the unique properties of nanoparticles, particularly in medicine, electronics, and materials science.
Nanobots are currently disrupting the biomedicine sector, with developments in cancer diagnosis and drug delivery. Image Credit: Corona Borealis Studio/Shutterstock.com
Nanoparticles, measuring just 1-100 nanometers, are unique to their bulk material counterpart, with their small scale gifting them properties that can be leveraged into new applications, making technologies possible that previously had been out of reach.
Nanotechnology continues to gain traction, with estimations that it will reach a global net worth of over $8.6 billion by 2025.
While many nanotechnology projects are still in the research and development phase, significant advancements are being made continuously as scientists discover more about how nanoparticles can be used in different scientific fields.
Here, we discuss the latest developments in the segment of nanobots. These tiny, nano-sized robots are currently disrupting the field of biomedicine, with particular advancements occurring in applications such as cancer diagnosis and drug delivery.
Recent research has helped to establish xenobots, tiny robots that are less than 1 mm in length and constructed of 500-1000 living cells. They have been created in a variety of basic shapes, including some with legs. Studies have shown they can effectively move linearly or circularly, join with other xenobots to act collectively, move tiny objects, and live for around 10 days.
Scientists believe that these xenobots could be developed in numerous ways that could positively impact human, animal, and environmental health, although their status as "programmable living robots” made from living, organic tissue raises ethical concerns.
While there is some uncertainty about the future of xenobots due to ethics, scientists working in this field are excited about their potential applications in cleaning up microplastics from the ocean, scavenging toxins and radioactive materials from dangerous places, the more efficient and effective targeted delivery of drugs, and the repair of cells and tissues.
Early diagnosis is a key strategy in the fight against cancer. However, due to the nature of cancer, current diagnostic techniques have their limitations. For example, recent years have seen the development of techniques that measure various biomarkers as a method of early diagnosis, although these techniques are limited due to the new concentrations of such biomarkers in body fluids.
Nanotechnology offers a route to highly sensitive and specific early diagnostics for cancer. Scientists have worked on developing nanobots that can precisely measure key cancer biomarkers at low concentration levels, enabling the early detection of multiple types of cancer and overcoming the limitations of currently available methods.
Studies have shown how the efficacy of biosensors can be enhanced with the addition of nanoparticles. These tiny molecules help to provide specific targeting and improve the sensitivity of the sensors via their increased surface-to-volume ratio.
Scientists are exploring the efficacy of DNA robots at destroying cancer cells. Scientists have successfully programmed strands of DNA to move through the blood to deliver blood-clotting drugs to the site of the tumor, cutting off their blood supply and preventing growth.
Many recent studies have highlighted the potential future use of nanobots in drug delivery. The current results are promising, suggesting that nanobots could soon be used in humans to deliver drugs with increased levels of efficacy and accuracy. This more efficient delivery may also help to reduce the harmful side effects associated with current therapeutics.
A team of researchers recently carried out in vitro experiments with nanobots, visualizing their movements with a combination of optical microscopy and Positron Emission Tomography (PET).
After learning how the nanoparticles were capable of migrating, the team tested the nanobots in a murine model, injecting the nanobots intravenously to mice. They coated the nanobots with urease, an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of urea, and found that the nanobots swam instantly to the bladder, resulting in induced fluid flows. The data was evidence of the collective movements of nanobots that resemble those found in nature.
The researchers described the collective movement of nanobots and “Nanobot swarms” and indicated that they could be particularly useful in viscous media, helping to deliver drugs with greater levels of precision.
It is theorized that nanobots could be used to deliver drugs to the eye, gastrointestinal tract, and joints. Scientists foresee that nanobots could be developed so that they are tailored to deliver drugs to specific parts of the body by adapting the nanobot to the fuel that exists in the environment where they are intended to deliver the therapeutics, (e.g. in the case of urease to direct them to the liver).
Creating a ‘Global Superbrain’
A final interesting development in nanobot research is using nanotechnology to establish a ‘global superbrain’ where human thought, theoretically, could be transferred to an artificial interface, establishing a human ‘brain-cloud interface’.
Scientists theorize that nanobots may be used in the future to wirelessly transmit information stored in the brain to a cloud-based supercomputer network, allowing real-time data extraction and brain-state monitoring. However, before this application of nanotechnology can become a reality, it must go under a significant phase of research and design as well as overcome the ethical and moral implications of the technology.
References and Further Reading
Observed in vivo the collective movement of nanorobots. EurekAlert!. Available at: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/ef-oiv031521.php
Nanobots/Nanorobots Market Worth 8,685.7 Million By 2025 at 11.73% CAGR. Global Newswire. Available at: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/02/23/2180785/0/en/Nanobots-Nanorobots-Market-Worth-8-685-7-Million-By-2025-at-11-73-CAGR-Investment-in-R-D-of-Nanorobotics-to-Influence-Growth-of-Global-Market-Says-Market-Research-Future-MRFR.html
Zhang, Y., Li, M., Gao, X., Chen, Y. and Liu, T., 2019. Nanotechnology in cancer diagnosis: progress, challenges and opportunities. Journal of Hematology & Oncology, 12(1). https://jhoonline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13045-019-0833-3