Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Drug Delivering Micro-Submarines

Engineers at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, in Australia, have developed tiny micro-submarines that can deliver medicine to specific organs within the body. Powered by micro-motors the machines are self-propelled. The team's research was recently published in Materials Today

 

“We already know that micro-motors use different external driving forces – such as light, heat or magnetic field – to actively navigate to a specific location,” says Dr. Kang Liang, corresponding author of the study. “In this research, we designed micro-motors that no longer rely on external manipulation to navigate to a specific location. Instead, they take advantage of variations in biological environments to automatically navigate themselves.”

An artist's representation of 'micro-submarines' transporting their medical cargo through capillaries among red blood cells.
An artist's representation of 'micro-submarines' transporting their medical cargo through capillaries among red blood cells.
Credit: University of New South Wales, Sydney

 

From the University of New South Wales, Sydney article: "What makes these micro-sized particles unique is that they respond to changes in biological pH environments to self-adjust their buoyancy. In the same way that submarines use oxygen or water to flood ballast points to make them more or less buoyant, gas bubbles released or retained by the micro-motors due to the pH conditions in human cells contribute to these nanoparticles moving up or down.

For the micro-submarines to find their target, a patient would need to be oriented in such a way that the cancer or ailment being treated is either up or down – in other words, a patient would be either upright or lying down.

Dr Liang says the so-called micro-submarines are essentially composite metal-organic frameworks (MOF)-based micro-motor systems containing a bioactive enzyme (catalase, CAT) as the engine for gas bubble generation. He stresses that he and his colleagues’ research is at the proof-of-concept stage, with years of testing needing to be completed before this could become a reality."

 

Read more about the drug delivering micro-submarines at University of New South Wales, Sydney