Nanorobots achieve 90% reduction in bladder tumors

Nanobots fueled by urease for bladder cancer therapy with radionuclides.


Researchers from different research institutes, including IBEC and CIC biomaGUNE, worked together to make small robots that move independently and use them to shrink bladder tumors in mice by 90%. This could be a helpful solution for treating bladder cancer.

The Advanced Digital Microscopy Facility at IRB Barcelona played a crucial role in the project by creating a unique camera system to see the nanorobots inside the bladder without using markers. This breakthrough helps us better understand and treat diseases, showing how advanced technology is essential in scientific progress.

Bladder cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide, especially in men, ranking fourth. Although it doesn’t have a high mortality rate, almost half of bladder tumors come back within five years. This means patients need frequent check-ups, hospital visits, and repeated treatments, making it one of the costliest cancers to treat.

Current treatments involve putting drugs directly into the bladder, which helps with survival but isn’t very effective. A promising solution is using tiny particles called nanorobots. These nanoparticles can move inside the body, delivering medicine directly to the tumor.

The researchers created tiny nanomachines powered by urea in urine to address bladder cancer. These machines target the tumor and attack it with a radioisotope. The nanomachines are made of a porous silica sphere and have specific components on their surface. Urease, an enzyme reacting with urea in urine, allows the nanomachine to move, and radioactive iodine is used for treating tumors. This breakthrough could lead to shorter hospital stays, lower costs, and more comfort for bladder cancer patients.

Samuel Sánchez, ICREA research professor at IBEC and leader of the study, explains, “With a single dose, we observed a 90% decrease in tumor volume. This is significantly more efficient than current treatments, given that patients with this tumor typically have between 6 and 14 hospital appointments. This therapeutic approach would increase efficiency by reducing the length of hospitalizations and the cost of the treatment.”

Finding a way to see nanorobots in tissues and tumors has been a big challenge in working with nanorobots. Regular techniques like PET scans don’t have the details to locate these tiny particles. IRB Barcelona’s Advanced Digital Microscopy Facility developed a new method using laser light to create 3D images by interacting with tissues and particles.

They also developed a technique using polarized light to cancel out interference from the tumor, making it possible to see and locate nanorobots without needing to tag them with other methods.

IRB Barcelona has nine core facilities that use advanced technologies like microscopy, drug screening, genomics, and proteomics. They also offer essential services like bioinformatics and protein expression. These facilities are crucial for cutting-edge research, fostering collaboration between different fields. The advanced technologies and skilled personnel in these facilities support innovative research, contribute to developing new techniques, and enhance the Institute’s ability to tackle complex challenges in biomedical research.

The study’s success in shrinking bladder tumors by 90% using nanorobots marks a significant milestone in cancer research. This innovative approach can potentially revolutionize bladder cancer treatment, offering a more efficient and targeted therapeutic option. Further research and clinical trials will be crucial to validating and translating these findings into practical and effective treatments for human patients.

Journal reference:

  1. Simó, C., Serra-Casablancas, M., Hortelao, A.C. et al. Urease-powered nanobots for radionuclide bladder cancer therapy. Nature Nanotechnology. DOI: 10.1038/s41565-023-01577-y.


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