Research Highlight

Magnetic nanomotors detect, kill cancer cells

doi:10.1038/nindia.2018.10 Published online 29 January 2018

Researchers have synthesised a new kind of magnetic nanomotor that can seek out and kill cancer cells by generating heat, making them potentially useful for diagnosing and treating cancers1.

Colloidal magnetic nanoparticles usually drift under the influence of a magnetic field exerted by a closely placed magnet. However, this property is not helpful to remotely push such particles in a fluidic environment such as blood. This limits their applications in biomedical fields.

To make magnetic nanoparticles that can be remotely controlled, scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in India prepared magnetic nanomotors by coating nanohelical structures of silicon dioxide with layers of iron and zinc ferrite. They then tested these nanomotors’ potential to move under the influence of an external magnetic field, generate heat and kill cancer cells.    

When incubated with specific cancer cells in the presence of an external magnetic field, the nanomotors generated enough heat to kill the cancer cells within 20 minutes. The cancer cells died through apoptosis, a process that triggers cell death in a controlled way.   

After an initial bout of stress, specific human cells recovered and were able to proliferate even in the presence of the nanomotors, showing that these tiny motors are biocompatible. In the future, it is possible to scale up the production of the nanomotors and increase their stability by coating them with polymers.

The scientists claim that such nanomotors take them closer to making a new class of nanovoyagers that could be deployed in human patients.



1. Venugopalan, P. L. et al. Single coating of zinc ferrite renders magnetic nanomotors therapeutic and stable against agglomeration. Nanoscale (2018) doi:10.1039/C7NR08291F