Cancer-killing nanorobots ‘armed with lethal weapon’ developed

Swedish scientists have made a groundbreaking advancement in the fight against cancer, creating nanorobots armed with “lethal weapons” designed to exclusively target and annihilate cancer cells.

These tiny but mighty machines have demonstrated their prowess by halting the spread of tumours in mice without damaging any surrounding healthy tissue, according to a study conducted at the prestigious Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The research team is cautiously optimistic about the potential for similar success in human trials.

Yang Wang, a researcher at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, emphasised the importance of understanding the possible side effects before proceeding to human testing. “We now need to investigate whether this works in more advanced cancer models that more closely resemble the real human disease,” said Wang, highlighting the next steps for the innovative treatment.

The technology hinges on a specially designed structure capable of arranging ‘death receptors’ on cell surfaces, triggering cell demise. This lethal mechanism consists of six peptides arranged hexagonally, described by Professor Bjorn Hogberg, the lead author of the study published in Nature Nanotechnology, as a “lethal weapon”.

However, there’s a catch to this potent cancer-fighting tool. “If you were to administer it as a drug, it would indiscriminately start killing cells in the body, which would not be good,” cautioned Hogberg, reports the Mirror.

To circumvent this issue, the researchers cleverly concealed the weapon within a nanostructure crafted from DNA.

The team has been working on what is known as ‘DNA origami’ – the process of building nanoscale structures using DNA – for years. They are now attempting to use the technique to create a ‘kill switch’ for cancerous cells which will only be activated under the right conditions – and therefore will “specifically target and kill cancer cells”.

“We have managed to hide the weapon in such a way that it can only be exposed in the environment found in and around a solid tumour,” Prof Hogberg said to the Sun. “This means that we have created a type of nanorobot that can specifically target and kill cancer cells.”

The trick is exploiting the low pH that typically surrounds cancer cells and would activate the weapon.

When the pH of a cell drops to 6.5 the peptide weapon has a significant cell-killing effect – but it remains hidden inside the nanostructure when the cell is at a normal pH of 7.4, test tube analyses showed. Tests on mice with breast cancer resulted in a 70 per cent reduction in tumour growth compared to mice given an inactive version of the nanorobot.

The scientist’s next step is to attempt to target the nanorobot even further to make it bind specifically to particular forms of cancer. The hope is to produce less toxic and invasive cancer treatments.

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