Imagine if it were possible to send tiny machines into living cells, where they could deliver medication, perform ultra-micro surgery, or even destroy the cell if needed. Well, we've recently come a little closer to being able to do so. Scientists at Pennsylvania State University have successfully inserted "nanomotors" into human cells, then remotely controlled those motors within the cells.

The nanomotors are described as "rocket-shaped metal particles," and they're propelled by externally-delivered ultrasonic waves. They can also be steered, by selectively applying magnetic fields.


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The cells used in the experiments were HeLa cells, which are human cervical cancer cells often used in research. Those cells ingested the nanomotors when they were introduced. When the ultrasound pulses were then applied, the motors could be made to move within the cells.

Depending on what was required, the nanomotors could simply bump into structures within the cell, they could destroy those structures by spinning around like an egg beater, or they could rupture the cell membrane by ramming into it from the inside. The latter two functions could prove particularly valuable in therapeutic applications, when dealing with cancer cells.

It was also noted that the nanomotors could move autonomously, independent of one another. That capability would be necessary if a "fleet" of the motors were to each treat or destroy a cell of their own – it wouldn't work if all the motors moved in the same direction at the same time.

"One dream application of ours is Fantastic Voyage-style medicine, where nanomotors would cruise around inside the body, communicating with each other and performing various kinds of diagnoses and therapy," said Prof. Tom Mallouk, who led the research. "There are lots of applications for controlling particles on this small scale, and understanding how it works is what's driving us."

Some of the nanomotors can be seen moving around inside cells, in the video below.

Source: Pennsylvania State University