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Journey into the self: Treating headache and tumors with mini robots


Revolution in cancer control and pain therapy

It sounds like a new science fiction film, but it is real: A German research team has developed a method with which microscopic, submarine-like vehicles float through the body and bring active ingredients to the desired areas of application. This could effectively combat tumors and treat pain in a targeted manner. Thanks to this futuristic-sounding method, healthy tissue remains largely intact.

The scientists from the University Medical Center Mainz and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) recently presented a study project in which a new therapy method against tumors and pain is the central topic. The core of the new treatment are the so-called nanocarriers. These microscopic submarines can be filled with medicine, which is then transported to a destination within the body. On site, the little companions dock onto the immune cells and release the active ingredient there. The study results were recently published in the renowned journal "Nature Nanotechnology".

Shoot with sparrows

In current treatment methods, drugs are often administered, which are distributed throughout the body. However, the place where the active ingredients are actually used is often only small and spatially limited. To counter this aspect, the study team developed the nanocarrier. These enable a targeted transport of medication to certain cell types.

One thousandth of a human hair

The scientists describe the nanocarrier as a kind of miniature submarine the size of about a thousandth of the diameter of a human hair. The vehicles are so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye. Despite the small size, the mini submarines are suitable as concentrated transport containers for medicinal substances.

Cancer control

The surface coating is intended to ensure that the submarines can dock particularly well to tissue interspersed with cancer cells. The coating consists largely of antibodies that work like an address on a package. The antibodies ensure that the nanocarrier can only dock at a certain point, such as tumor cells or immune cells.

Double efficiency

"Until now, these antibodies had to be bound to the nanocapsules using complex chemical methods," reports Professor Dr. Volker Mailänder in a press release on the study results. The team led by the professor found that it is sufficient for the coating to combine antibodies and nanocapsule in an acidified solution. This simplified process would make the connection between nanocapsule and antibody about twice as efficient.

Crucial improvement

In previous experiments, the chemically coupled antibody lost its effectiveness almost completely when exposed to the conditions prevailing in human blood. In contrast, the non-chemically applied antibodies also work under these conditions.

More stable outer shell

"The previously common connection via complex chemical processes can lead to the antibody being changed or even destroyed or the nanocarrier in the blood being quickly added with proteins," explains Professor Dr. Katharina Landfester from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research. The new method protects the antibody and makes the nanocarrier more stable. This can ensure a more effective distribution of medication in the body.

The future relies on nanotechnological therapy processes

With the new method, the coating can not only be carried out more simply, but also over the entire surface. According to the scientists, there is less space on the nanocarrier for blood proteins that could prevent docking to a target cell. Overall, the researchers see the new method as making a major contribution to the efficiency and applicability of therapy methods based on nanotechnology in the future. (vb)

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