Microscopic swimming robots that could navigate through the body to perform medical tasks such as delivery of targeted cancer therapies or surgeries are currently in development. In a study, scientists made magnetically controlled microrobots based on neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. In mice, these so-called neutrobots penetrated the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to deliver drugs to brain cancer cells.
“This is a very cool idea,” says Liangfang Zhang, a nanoengineer and bioengineer at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved with the study. “I would say this paper is still an early proof-of-concept study, but I think that the overall concept is novel. It’s interesting because it’s new thinking about how to send cargo to the brain.”
A major hurdle in treating neurological diseases is getting drugs past the BBB, a highly selective boundary that denies most substances admission to the brain. But certain white blood cells are granted special access to deal with infections and inflammation, making them good trojan horses for getting drugs past this blockade.