Scientists fro the Pennsylvania State University have successfully inserted and remotely controlled “nanomotors” inside human cells. With further development these “rocket-shaped metal particles” could be used to deliver medicine, perform micro-surgery and even destroy the cell completely.

Nanomotors are moved via externally-delivered ultrasonic waves and can be maneuvered by selectively applying magnetic fields. This is a big step for researchers as historically nanomotors have been studied only “in vitro” in a laboratory apparatus, not in living human cells.


“Our first-generation motors required toxic fuels and they would not move in biological fluid, so we couldn’t study them in human cells,” said Prof. Tom Mallouk, who led the research. “That limitation was a serious problem.” When they discovered that the nanomotors could be powered with ultrasonic waves, then the way was open to study the motors inside living cells.

The scientists used HeLa cells, which are human cervical cancer cells, for the research. These cells ingested the nanomotors and then ultrasound pulses were administered, allowing the motors to be controlled and moved inside the cells.

Once inserted into the cell, the nanomotors were able to bump into structures that were contained within the cell and destroy them by spinning around. They could also ram the cell internally, causing it to rupture. It is thought that these functions could be a potential solution in dealing with cancer cells.

“One dream application of ours is Fantastic Voyage-style medicine, where nanomotors would cruise around inside the body, communicating with each other and performing various kinds of diagnoses and therapy,” said Prof. Tom Mallouk, who led the research. “There are lots of applications for controlling particles on this small scale, and understanding how it works is what’s driving us.”

Check out the video below to see the nanomotors in action.

[Image via Think Inc]