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Scientists building killer robots rarely sound like good news…unless these machines focus their talents on disease. A group of scientists have developed micro-robots that work in packs and specialize in the destruction of microbes. In trials, they have already successfully eliminated pneumonia germs in the lungs of a group of mice.
The scientists hope that the first success of this therapy robot prototype may mark the possibility of achieving the same feat in humans. The material from which these microscopic robots are made may surprise. Indeed, they are composed of algae. Or, more precisely, algae cells themselves coated with a layer of antibiotic nanoparticles.
These nanoparticles are made up of tiny polymeric spheres coated with neutrophil membranes, a type of white blood cell. They neutralize inflammatory molecules produced by bacteria and the body’s own immune system. Thus, harmful inflammation is reduced, which improves the fight against infection.
Scanning electron microscope image of a microrobot battling pneumonia. It consists of an algae cell (green) coated with biodegradable polymer nanoparticles (brown). The nanoparticles contain antibiotics and are coated with neutrophil cell membranes. © Fangyu Zhang and Zhengxing Li.
As for the mobility of microrobots, algae are responsible for it. This ability is key because it allows antibiotics to be dosed in a targeted manner. However, it is precisely this focus on “delivering” antibiotics that makes it so effective. Finally, algae cells, like nanoparticles, naturally dissolve in the body over time.
In the latest experiments carried out by scientists, the results of which were published in the journal Nature Materials, two separate groups of mice were formed. One of them received antibiotic treatment delivered by microrobots through tubes inserted into their windpipes. The other served as a control group. Both had the same condition: a form of fatal pneumonia caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
More effective than intravenous injections.
This specific form usually affects ventilated patients in the intensive care unit. The treated group was germ-free within a week. All treated subjects survived at least more than 30 days. All other mice died within three days.
However, this does not mean that the method can be directly transferred to humans. Scientists, however, see this as an encouraging sign. “Based on these mouse data, we see that microrobots have the potential to improve the penetration of antibiotics to kill bacterial pathogens and save the lives of more patients,” said Victor Nize, a physician and professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego. university statement.
Researchers believe that this type of treatment is more effective than intravenous antibiotics. According to them, the administered dose should be 3,000 times greater than when using microrobots for an equivalent effect in mice. “These results show how targeted drug delivery combined with the active movement of microalgae enhances therapeutic efficacy,” says UC San Diego nanoengineer Joseph Wang.
“When injected, sometimes only a very small fraction of the antibiotic gets into the lungs. That’s why many modern antibiotics for pneumonia don’t work properly, leading to very high death rates among the sickest patients,” said Victor Niese, a professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and the Skaggs School of Pharmacy. and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and co-author of the study.
The next step for scientists will be to continue research into how microrobots interact with the immune system. They will then have to test their method on larger animals and finally on humans.