Tag Archives: technology

Medicine’s Very Own Mini Militia

nanobots and tumors

Nanobots surrounding cancerous tissues.

For the past 5,000 years, mankind has been arduously battling one of the most complicated diseases ever to exist: Cancer. Cancer has ravaged our world and overwhelmed centuries of medical science and technology. Just in 2018, it claimed the lives of an estimated 9.6 million humans and more people are being diagnosed with  this disease daily. The need for a cure has been imminent for a very long time now. Humans have dreamt and imagined different ways of gaining the upper hand in this archaic war.  From as early as the late 60’s, science fiction has portrayed nanoscale methods of curing human diseases, most especially cancer, in movies and books. At the time, one could only dream of such ever becoming a reality.  How often are the movies true and applicable to reality? It seemed like a dream and even now, many people are still dreaming of such advancements in technology.  Dream no more- a new scientific technology, known as nanomedical technology, may have the potential to end the war on cancer.

With the discovery of nanomedical technology, scientists have been able to create the world’s very first set of microscopic nanorobotic soldiers. These nanobots, as they call them, are carefully loaded with clot-forming proteins, such has thrombin, or chemotherapeutic drugs like methotrexate are able to track and kill cancer cells in different ways- the worlds very first microscopic spec ops mission. This incredible feat was achieved through nanomedical technology which started in the early 2000’s after being coined out of nanotechnology. Originally, it was not given much attention as it seemed impractical at the time but as years passed and our knowledge of technology continued to increase, it became more prominently known worldwide as a potential treatment of a wide range of diseases. The method of operation of this technology is characterized by swarms of nanoscale robots that swim through the blood to find the source of a diagnosed disease and then either administer drugs to that specific site or use in-built machinery like drills to destroy the source completely. For cancer treatment, they are designed to locate and destroy tumor cells or cancerous growths as the case may be.

Nanobots can be designed in different ways depending on the function they are intended to serve. The simpler nanobots, usually designed to cut off tumor’s blood supply, have simple structures analogous to any fuel tanker: a cylindrical containment containing cargo. The cylindrical containment is designed from an M13 rectangular bacteriophage DNA sheet using a technique called DNA origami which is characterized by folding DNA on an extremely small scale. Attached to the rectangular sheets are 4 thrombin enzymes designated at specific locations in the middle, tumor-targeting DNA at the vertices of the rectangular sheet and fastener strands that fasten the nanobot into a tubular shape in order to protect the thrombin cargo.

The tumor-targeting DNA is then able to track tumor cells by binding to specific proteins located only on tumor cells. When this happens, the tubular nanobot is unfolded and the thrombin cargo is released into the blood vessel and the body responds naturally to the thrombin’s presence in the blood by forming a blood clot in the blood vessel, blocking the supply of blood to the tumor and causes the tumor to die due to oxygen shortage.

A group of scientists from Arizona State University and the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology of Chinese Academy of Sciences actually manufactured a large number of these nanobots and studied their effects on the progression of cancerous tumors in mice models to see if they actually perform as intended. Incredibly, the median survival time of the mice was increased and the mice showed signs of tumor regression.

Another group of scientists from medical science universities in Iran, used nanoparticles (another name for simple nanobots) loaded with chemotherapeutic drugs, doxorubicin and methotrexate, on rats with chemically induced cancer to assess their efficacy as opposed to orally delivering these drugs. The nanoparticles proved to be more efficient as they caused a significant drop in the rate of cancer cell proliferation as well as the degree of malignancy of the tumors. Below is an infographic explaining the structure and design of these nanobots.

Cylindrical nanobots

Image of the structure of simple nanobots and their function in treating tumors

The more structurally complex nanorobots however, have designs hypothesized to contain nanoscale biosensors, radiation cameras, drills and chemotherapeutic drug storages embedded into a machine roughly half the size of a cell. Given the difficulties of creating something so tiny, the hypothesized nanobots would be printed using 3D printers and loaded with drugs using specially designed machines.

Prior to being injected into the patient, the patient would be given a dose of radiotracers, a harmless radioactive substance that accumulate at regions of cancerous growth. Once deployed, the battalion of nanobots use their gamma ray cameras to detect positrons emitted by the radioligands in the radiotracers and calculate the shortest possible path towards those regions using its microprocessors. After determining which route to take, the nanobots use motors designed to flow with the blood and biosensors to dodge blood constituents and obstacles until it reaches its destination. Once at the target, the nanobot is remotely instructed to inject chemotherapeutic drugs to the cancerous cells, or drill through them entirely in a completely painless procedure. Amazingly, after these soldiers accomplish their mission, they are instructed to go through the body’s excretory system and come out in your feces.

Currently, seeing as modern technology does not have the capabilities of creating a nanoscale robot packed with so much equipment, large prototypes of this hypothesized design are being experimented. One scientist, R.Maheswari, has manufactured a prototype for the nanobot. The prototype is able to use the navigation system of a nanobot to successfully maneuver obstacles courses designed to mimic the bloodstream. Right now, the only problem he faces is to scale the robot down to nanoscale.

Even though this breakthrough sounds promising, this technology has a long way to go before it becomes widely used as a medical treatment but on thing is for sure, as the level of modern technology continues to rise, we are destined to get a cure for cancer soon and this incredible breakthrough is an indicator of how close this inevitability is from now.



Li, S., Jiang, Q., Liu, S. et al. A DNA nanorobot functions as a cancer therapeutic in response to a molecular trigger in vivoNat Biotechnol 36258–264 (2018). https://search.proquest.com/docview/2011288340?pq-origsite=summon

Moradzadeh Khiavi, M., Rostami, A., Hamishekar, H., Mesgari Abassi, M., Aghbali, A., Salehi,           R., … Sina, M. (2015). Therapeutic Efficacy of Orally Delivered Doxorubicin Nanoparticles in Rat Tongue Cancer Induced by 4-Nitroquinoline 1-Oxide. Advanced pharmaceutical bulletin5(2), 209–216. doi:10.15171/apb.2015.029https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517077/?tool=pmcentrez&report=abstract

R., Maheswari, et al. “Cancer Detecting Nanobot Using Positron Emission Tomography.” Procedia Computer Science, vol. 133, 2018, pp. 315-322.,https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050918309840?via%3Dihub


Photo credits: 

Image 1: The Nanorobotics Laboratory, Polytechnique Montreal. https://www.polymtl.ca/salle-de-presse/en/newsreleases/legions-nanorobots-target-cancerous-tumours-precision

Image 2: The Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University . https://asunow.asu.edu/20180212-discoveries-cancer-fighting-nanorobots-seek-and-destroy-tumors



The One Eye Want

Photo from Flickr Images

Blue eyes are frequently found in nationalities located near the Baltic sea in northern Europe, and uncommon in places in Asia. Photo from Flickr Images.

Sabrina Shah

Do you yourself have dark brown eyes? Have you ever wished to have vibrant-colored irises? Have you ever invested in colored contacts? Imagine being able to have the bright blue colored lenses you’ve always wanted, permanently. Only about 8 percent of the human population has blue eyes. What if you could be one of that 8 percent?

The idea of cosmetic eye color alteration procedures that was once only seen in sci-fi films and novels is now a reality. With the latest technology, labs in California and India are permanently changing people’s eye color with great rates of success and ease.

The initial discovery of the ability to change one’s eye color was a result of a scientific fluke. It started in 2007 when a glaucoma patient, a 56-year-old Caucasian man, was undergoing experimental treatments. After doctors used a laser procedure in hopes of curing the man’s glaucoma, they discovered his eyes had changed in hue to a bright blue color —an unexpected side effect.

Upon the realization that the eye color change did no damage to the man’s iris after long-term observation, and that it resulted in an aesthetic change, scientist started research and development to create a similar surgery to use for cosmetic purposes to offer to the general public.

Under every brown eye is a blue eye. A Californian lab, STROMA, developed a technique of eye color change on this very idea. Scientists in this lab have created a non-invasive laser method that is pointed at a specific spot in the iris, the “sweet spot”, that causes gradual pigment-tissue degeneration over the course of a few weeks that eventually reveals the blue hue that is present under every brown eye.

This operation has occurred so far only in California and clinical trials have been done on 20 individuals in one eye each to see the success rates and possible long term side effects. So far the operation has yielded great success and no issues have come up however, one known flaw is that the procedure only works to turn brown eyes blue, and furthermore, the blue hue varies in shade depending on the individual’s own base blue eye pigment.

This surgery is not yet available to the general public however, the lab offers an application process to be a participant in their trials; participants are able to get the operation done in one eye and they must attend follow-up consultations to see the effectiveness and potential side effects of the surgery before the lab is able to release the procedure for public consumption.

A different technique in its trial stages is a permanent implantation of a colored lens over the iris. The procedure, so far, has only had one trial performed on a New Zealand woman; the surgery took place in a lab in India.

This procedure is invasive as it requires a physical cut and insertion of a lens over the iris however, it is more manipulable; surgeons are able to change any base eye color to any other desired eye color, much like colored contact lenses do. During the procedure, doctors implant a colored artificial lens over the person’s natural eye color. The color change is immediate much like colored contacts but without the hassle of having to remove the contacts on a nightly basis.

No negative side affects have been noted by the New Zealand participant thus far, and the surgery was successful in altering her brown eyes to her desired shade of bright teal blue. Further observation is being carried out in order to ensure the safety and permanence of the implants. Surgeons want to ensure that the lenses will not need to be replaced and that they do not have issues with movement within the eye, years after the procedure. This lab did not offer any opportunity to register as an experimental participant, and is only observing the one known participant so far. It is not yet offered on the market to the masses.

The implications of these two surgeries are potentially monumental.

The lens implantation surgery can be used for people who are afflicted with genetic diseases such as albinism, birth defects that cause a lack of iris pigmentation, and other individuals who lack color in their irises for unexplained biological reasons, since the surgery is able to change any one eye color to another. With the implantation method, people who lack pigment in the iris will be able to get any color lenses implanted over their own colorless lenses.

Both procedures, STROMA and lens implantation, can also be used on people who just do not like their dark eyes and want an everlasting eye color change. Imagine plastic surgery/body modification for the eye balls.

This new technology may be the very future of body modification for people around the world. Although it is not available in the market yet, once it is tried and tested by experimenters and health agencies, eye color alteration may become the next big obsession in first world nations that strive to attain physical beauty.

Since only about 8 percent of the population has blue eyes, colored eyes are vied for by people in places where blue eyes are uncommon, like Asia where the colored contacts industry is particularly booming. Marketing for these procedures will most likely take place in regions with high frequency of brown eyes (55 percent of the population of the world currently, has brown eyes). These procedures will likely decrease that statistic dramatically.

After these surgeries become established procedures, what body part do you think will be up for modification next?