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Many of us can remember learning as schoolchildren about tiny protozoans that propel themselves with cilia, the corkscrew shaped hair-like structures attached to their “bodies.” Now, modern medicine may make this seemingly forgotten lesson into a sort of miracle! A group of scientists are utilizing this mechanism in the design of tiny robot-like devices that may be used to direct therapies to particular areas of the body.
As reported in the American Chemical Society’s Journal Nano Letters, Joseph Wang and others are looking to these corkscrew structures to act as tiny propellers on nano-sized “microswimmers” that can accomplish such feats as delivering drugs to very specific targets inside the body (think cancer cells). Another potential use is in the dyes that are used for some types of medical imaging, where the swimmers could deliver a specific element to a target organ.
Turning again to the world of plants, the group also strive to make these devices more biodegradable by utilizing actual spiral structures from inside plant stems as the “skeletons” for the swimmers. These structures are then coated with thin layers of the desired material and released in a liquid environment such as human blood. Keep in mind that by “thin,” we mean one to a few atoms thick, so that the amounts of metals that are introduced into the body are minimal and certainly not dangerous. Just think, when your children’s grandchildren get sick, they may have tiny devices that can swim around in their bodies and make them well again!
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