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Mind-controlled nanobots release drugs inside cockroaches

The research could one day help patients release drugs into their own bodies.
Steve Dent, @stevetdent
August 26, 2016
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Wikimedia/Jarek Tuszyński

Stay with me here -- scientists from Bar-Ilan University and the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel created nanobots, injected them into cockroaches, and released fluorescent drugs into the insects using mind power. While that sounds insanely convoluted, the aim is to actually help humans. If a schizophrenia patient is about to have a violent episode, for instance, an EEG could trigger the release of powerful drugs. That way, they'd only get them when needed, minimizing harmful side effects.

It's also pretty cool. The nanobots injected into the roaches are made from so-called DNA origami that's natural and easy to program. They're also fitted with iron oxide nanoparticle "locks" that open and release drugs when exposed to an EEG-controlled electromagnet. When EEG-wearing users increase their brain energy (by doing math), it powers up the magnet, which in turn activates the nanobots. The team can measure the fluorescence inside the bugs to confirm that it's working.

DNA Origami (Karolinska Institute)

The EEG could be programmed to detect psychotic episodes, ADHD or other brain issues, according to the team. The drug release could also be tightly controlled using molecules that only attach to certain cell types. For instance, the medication could be released only into cancer cells if attached to the right kind of molecule.

As with all things nanobot, the research isn't ready for human trials. There's no EEG portable enough to wear all the time and still practical, for one. And even though we've written about drug-releasing nanobots many, many times, they've never been tried in humans. The team that performed the cockroach research may have an edge, though. One of the scientists, Ido Bachelet from Bar-Ilan University, plans to trial nanobot cancer treatment on a terminally ill patient as early as this year.

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