Researchers have recently taken the next step forward in cancer treatment, by developing and synthesising light-activated nanomachines that are capable of boring into cancer cells and killing them within a matter of minutes.
These molecular machines, about 1/50,000th of the width of a human hair, consist of a stator which identifies and attaches to the target cell, and a rotor, consisting of a propeller like chain of atoms. When activated by UV light, the molecular propeller spins at millions of times per second, causing the nanomachine to drill into the cancer cells by disrupting the lipid bilayer (the cell’s boundary wall). The openings generated by the nanomachine can either deliver a treatment drug or cause the cancerous cell to disintegrate and die.
Figure 1: Activation of the nanomachine using light, resulting in the drilling action.
Source: Springer Nature
So far, initial experiments have demonstrated the nanomachines drilling holes into, and successfully killing prostate cancer cells within one to three minutes of activation.
The selectivity and rapid impact presents researchers with an impressive alternative to current treatments which normally require lengthier action times or cannot differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells. However, before being considered a viable treatment option, researchers must identify other methods of activation such as near IR light or radio waves, as UV light cannot penetrate far enough into the human body to be effective.
Scientists now plan on testing the nanomachines in microorganisms and fish, before animal and human trials can begin. If successful, this may represent a significant step towards non-invasive cancer treatment resulting in improved patient survival rates.
Jay, Technical Consultant, Leyton UK
 Springer Nature: https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v548/n7669/full/nature23657.html
 Chemistryworld: https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/nanomachines-can-bore-cancer-cells-to-death/3007927.article
 The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/08/30/nanomachines-drill-cancer-cells-killing-just-60-seconds-developed/
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