Nanoparticles take a fantastic, magnetic voyage

April 26, 2019

MIT engineers have designed tiny robots that can help drug-delivery nanoparticles push their way out of the bloodstream and into a tumor or another disease site. Like crafts in “Fantastic Voyage” — a 1960s science fiction film in which a submarine crew shrinks in size and roams a body to repair damaged cells — the robots swim through the bloodstream, creating a current that drags nanoparticles along with them.

The magnetic microrobots, inspired by bacterial propulsion, could help to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to delivering drugs with nanoparticles: getting the particles to exit blood vessels and accumulate in the right place.

“When you put nanomaterials in the bloodstream and target them to diseased tissue, the biggest barrier to that kind of payload getting into the tissue is the lining of the blood vessel,” says Sangeeta Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and the senior author of the study.

“Our idea was to see if you can use magnetism to create fluid forces that push nanoparticles into the tissue,” adds Simone Schuerle, a former MIT postdoc and lead author of the paper, which appears in the April 26 issue of Science Advances.

In the same study, the researchers also showed that they could achieve a similar effect using swarms of living bacteria that are naturally magnetic. Each of these approaches could be suited for different types of drug delivery, the researchers say.

Click here to access the press review from MIT News.

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