Research Highlight

Self-propelling nanorobots ferry drugs to cancer cells

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.54 Published online 31 March 2020

Researchers have invented self-propelling nanorobots that can precisely target and deliver an anticancer drug to human colon cancer cells1.

Lingering in the tumour micro-environment, the nanorobots release the drug slowly at the target cancer cells. This enables the drug to kill cancer cells at a low dose, sparing healthy cells.   

Existing drug carriers cannot propel themselves, but instead depend on blood flow to reach target cancer cells. Besides, most of them are not biocompatible.

In search of a better drug carrier, scientists from the Maharashtra Institute of Medical Education and Research, and Dr Vishwanath Karad of MIT World Peace University, both in Pune, India, synthesised nanorobots using iron oxide nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes loaded with the anticancer drug doxorubicin, a specific antibody and a cell-surface protein that is expressed on cancer cells.

They then explored the efficiency of the nanorobots in releasing the anticancer drug in various media that mimic physiological environments and in blood.

The iron oxide nanoparticles in the nanorobots help decompose the hydrogen peroxide present in the media into water and oxygen bubbles. The oxygen bubbles provide the needed thrust to propel the nanorobots.   

The researchers, led by Shashwat Banerjee and Jayant Khandare, found that the nanorobots could propel upward and then move gradually in a downward direction. Since the robots contain magnetic nanoparticles, their direction of movement can also be remotely controlled by using a magnetic field. 

The nanorobots penetrated deep inside tumours and released greater amounts of the drug in the acidic micro-environment of a tumour. This suggests that the nanorobots would be effective cancer killers even in small numbers. 



1. Andhari, S. S. et al. Self-propelling targeted Magneto-nanobots for deep tumor penetration and pH-responsive intracellular drug delivery. Sci. Rep. 10:4703 (2020) Doi: