Home Tiny nanorobots could enter your body and kill cancer cells in the near future

Tiny nanorobots could enter your body and kill cancer cells in the near future


  • Swedish scientists use nanorobots made of amino acids to target and kill cancer cells.
  • The robots identify cancer cells by detecting the slightly acidic pH levels around tumors.
  • Initial tests on mice showed up to a 70% reduction in breast cancer tumors.

Swedish scientists have discovered how to use nanorobots to target and kill cancer cells.

Made of amino acids, the tiny robots can be injected into the body. They can activate ‘death receptors’ in cells, helping to shrink tumors. All cells have death receptors, so the main obstacle has been finding a way for the robots to identify the harmful cancer cells, rather than attacking healthy cells and cancerous ones alike.

The team of scientists, based in the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, had been working on finding this ‘kill switch’ for years, ever since they first discovered how to create the tiny robots made from amino acids.

How do the robots identify cancer cells?

“This hexagonal nanopattern of peptides becomes a lethal weapon,” Professor Björn Högberg, who led the study, told Metro. “If you were to administer it as a drug, it would indiscriminately start killing cells in the body, which would not be good. To get around this problem, we have hidden the weapon inside a nanostructure built from DNA.”

The construction of this nanoscale DNA structure is known as DNA origami. By combining DNA and peptides, the team created robots that only target cancerous cells. The pH (or potential of hydrogen) measures how acidic or alkaline any given substance is. For most part of the human body, the pH level is around 7.4, or neutral, but the areas surrounding tumors are usually slightly acidic.

By measuring the pH, the robots can identify which areas are cancerous. They stay inactive in areas at pH 7.4 but start taking out cells at pH 6.5.

“We have managed to hide the weapon in such a way that it can only be exposed in the environment found in and around a solid tumor,” said Professor Högberg. “This means that we have created a type of nanorobot that can specifically target and kill cancer cells.”

Initial testing has taken place on mice, with the robots helping to shrink breast cancer tumors by up to 70%.

“We now need to investigate whether this works in more advanced cancer models that more closely resemble the real human disease,” said first author of the study Yang Wang. “We also need to find out what side effects the method has before it can be tested on humans.”

In the future, the team also hopes to make the nanorobots able to target specific types of cancer. Cancer research also recently benefitted from technological advancements in AI, reducing treatment time and accelerating diagnoses.

Featured image: Ideogram

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Rachael Davies
Tech Journalist

Rachael Davies has spent six years reporting on tech and entertainment, writing for publications like the Evening Standard, Huffington Post, Dazed, and more. From niche topics like the latest gaming mods to consumer-faced guides on the latest tech, she puts her MA in Convergent Journalism to work, following avenues guided by a variety of interests. As well as writing, she also has experience in editing as the UK Editor of The Mary Sue , as well as speaking on the important of SEO in journalism at the Student Press Association National Conference. You can find her full portfolio over on…

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