High-resolution confocal images show the effects of light-activated molecular drills on cells inside a worm. Before activation, at left, the injected drills remain dark. At right, after 15 minutes of exposure to light, fluorescent signals show widespread damage in the transparent nematodes. The drills developed at Rice University are intended to target drug-resistant bacteria, cancer and other disease-causing cells and destroy them without damaging adjacent healthy cells. Image by Thushara Galbadage/Biola University
Tissue-digging nanodrills do just enough damage
Scientists at Rice University, Biola University and the Texas A&M Health Science Center have further validation that their molecular motors, light-activated rotors that spin up to 3 million times per second, can target diseased cells and kill them in minutes.
The team led by Biola molecular biochemist Richard Gunasekera and Rice chemist James Tour showed their motors are highly effective at destroying cells in three multicellular test organisms: worms, plankton and mice.
“That mouse skin changes due to the ‘drilling’ by the nanomachines might be the one of most interesting aspects of the study to scientists,” said Gunasekera, an adjunct faculty member and former visiting scientist at Rice and currently associate dean and a professor of biochemistry at Biola. He is co-lead author of the paper with Thushara Galbadage, an associate professor of public health at Biola.
“It could mean direct topical treatment to skin conditions such as melanomas, eczema and other skin diseases,” Gunasekera said. “This paper is significant because it’s the first testing of nanomachines where we’ve proven its effectiveness in vivo. All other studies done so far were done in vitro.”
He suggested the motors could be used for therapeutic parasite control as well as local treatment of such diseases as skin cancer.
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