Disease as we know it is a thing of the past! The emergence of technology resembling a science fiction novel may be responsible for turning complex biomedical conundrums into tasks of simple engineering!
Ever since the days of Miss Frizzle and her magic school bus, the dream of shrinking ourselves down to fit within arteries, veins, cavities and tissues has excited the bioengineering community. Getting people with the right tools in close contact with blood clots, arterial plaques and diseased cells would make treatment of most diseases as easy as knocking down a wall.
Well the day has come! Shrink rays are shrinking test subjects all around the world and it won’t be long until we have the tools and the workforce to miniaturise our whole healthcare system.
Of course, I’m only joking. A real shrink ray goes against the very laws of the physical world, but the same concept of controlling a seek and destroy intervention against specific cells is being pioneered to increase the effectiveness of drugs and minimise their side effects.
While we won’t be sending ourselves down the plumbing of our insides, a breastroking magnetic field-following algae is happy to do it for us.
Chlamydomonas reinhardtii alga with two drug-containing microballs attached to its surface. Image by Yasa et al.
The alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, is a single-celled microorganism with two flailing projections which allow it to swim through our body fluids at 100 micrometres per second. It has a negatively-charged body that lets us attach positive, drug-containing, microballs to its surface. And best of all, with the microballs being magnetic, you can use a magnetic field to steer them around in an (admittedly wobbly) straight line.
Video by Yasa et al.
With these three characteristics, this little green medic can be steered through the complex maze of our body to accurately deliver drugs against effected cells and tissues.
Most drugs used to treat our worst diseases have dire consequences for the our healthy cells if they are left to flood our body. The tug of war between a dose high enough to kill diseased cells but not high enough to kill or permanently injure the patient is always a concern.
But our new drug-carrying friend has the potential to abolish both these problems.
To deliver the drugs to the diseased area’s doorstep means the dose can be ramped up to an effective concentration without the risk of widespread side effects, and the alga has the characteristics to get it there!
So, while microscopic battlefields involving people and pathologies may remain a thing of fiction, enlisting tiny creatures to delivery our drugs within the body may be the thing that changes the way we look at disease treatment for ever!