BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 18:58 GMT
'Bug-driven robots' to administer drugs
graphic of blood sub
Computer simulations are based on bacterial 'motors'
Scientists are in a race to create the first microscopic "submarines" which can whizz through the bloodstream attacking disease.


We could conceivably have micro-organisms power nanomachinery for extended periods of time

Eldrid Sequeira, Utah State University
Nanotechnology researchers in both Europe and the US have created computer simulations of the mini subs and some believe prototypes are less than a year away.

A team from Utah State University is examining the prospect of using bacteria to propel small structures to deliver drugs to particular parts of the body.

According to Eldrid Sequeira from the university's mechanical engineering department, bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli may be the perfect "motors" for the subs.

Tiny biomotors

As the bacteria swam through the bloodstream they could push or pull a tiny disc, sealed within a liquid-filled cylinder.

These discs could be drugs to treat tumours or break down the material lining blocked arteries.

Speaking at the Foresight conference on nanotechnology in Maryland, he said: "Depending on the design we implement and with recent advances in nanoscale fabrication techniques, we could conceivably have micro-organisms power nanomachinery for extended periods of time."

Eventually, the Utah team believe they could build biomotors using only the flagella from the bacteria which would mean the biomotors would be even smaller - around 100 nanometres (billionths of a metre).

Various methods

The team hope that their current computer simulations will be followed up with a prototype in a few months, probably using a wild strain of the salmonella bacterium.

According to New Scientist magazine, commercial manufacturers are also working on similar technology.

US company Renaissance Technologies plans to start making medical robots smaller than a millimetre in diameter within a year. And a German firm, MicroTEC, is exploring the use of external magnetic fields as a power source for microscopic motors to travel around the body.

In the UK, one of the main areas of work is in seeking effective systems that will target powerful drugs directly at tumours without causing side effects throughout the body.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

20 Aug 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Robots rule OK?
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories