For the first time, Scientists at Penn State University have built tiny motors, or nanomotors, that operate inside living human cells.
To understand the technology, one has to dispel the notion that a nanomotor is just a very, very, small motor. Start with the definition of a motor as any machine that produces motion in something else.
The Penn State team produced a machine which is a small gold rod with an arrow-shaped tip and tailpipe. They move around by ultrasound pulses. When energized, sound waves travel through the fluid of the cell then bounces off the metal rods sending them moving in the cell.
You can make these things go really fast, you can make them spin around,” said biochemistry professor Tom Mallouk, Evan Pugh Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics and leader of the nanomotors team. “They are like a bunch of bumper cars running around aimlessly.”
The actions of these microscopic motors can be controlled by using magnets and varying sound wave intensities. The rods can be propelled forward like a rocket or made to spin like a single eggbeater blade.
It is difficult to imagine just how small these motors are.
“They are a couple of micrometers long,” Mallouk said. “A good way to think of this is that a human hair is about 50 micrometers wide. So, you line up 25 of these [nanomotors] end-to-end—and they span a hair.”
The new nanomotors could be a new tool to let researchers look around inside a cell and see how it behaves. Energizing the motor and seeing how the cell behaves has been compared to the little rubber hammer a doctor uses to knock tap a knee and watching the reflex.
Nanomotors are not new. Scientists have been researching them since the 1980s. Early-generation nanomotors didn’t work properly inside biological matter—and the fuels used to power them were toxic to humans. Because of this limitation, researchers have been looking for a fuel-free propulsion mechanism for their motors with the potential to work inside living tissue.
Joseph Wang, nano-engineering professor at the University of California, San Diego says Mallouk’s team has done that. Wang also studies and develops nanomotors but was not involved in the latest research from Penn State.
“Tom Mallouk’s group demonstrated that these ultrasound motors—based on gold nano-wires—cannot only approach a cell, but also the cell can swallow the motors,” Wang said. “It’s major progress.”
Penn State’s breakthrough is a basic science advancement on a long road toward—someday—deploying microscopic robots inside the body to hunt down disease and treat illness.
For one example of a possible use of a nanomotor, is in surgery. “I would like to make his life [the surgeon’s] easier,” Mallouk said. “So instead of having the patient with his cranium sawed open … we’d just inject 100 million of our nanomotors into the patient’s arm.”
Mallouk imagines that instead of standing in a surgery suite—a doctor would sit at video game console and send out future-generation nanobots to deliver medicine—or may puncture cancer cells.
Later, the tiny bots would get flushed out of the body through the kidneys.
“As these nanomotors move around and bump into structures inside the cells, the live cells show internal mechanical responses that no one has seen before,” said Mallouk, Evan Pugh Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics. “This research is a vivid demonstration that it may be possible to use synthetic nanomotors to study cell biology in new ways. We might be able to use nanomotors to treat cancer and other diseases by mechanically manipulating cells from the inside. Nanomotors could perform intracellular surgery and deliver drugs noninvasively to living tissues.”
Transhumanism is a philosophical and cultural position that encourages human advancement through technology. More specifically, transhumanism encourages the use of artificial enhancements to push mankind towards something “more than” human.
While nanotechnology offers a great potential for relieving human suffering, putting too much faith in technology can foster a fondness for transhumanism, a philosophical and cultural position that encourages human advancement through technology.
Transhumanism encourages the use of artificial enhancements to push mankind towards something “more than” human. Fundamentally, it is a form of Utopianism, the belief that human beings can change themselves and create a heaven on earth. Transhumanism, though, contradicts the Bible when it assumes that humanity is completely sovereign and capable of self-directed change without the need for God.
The heart is more deceitful than anything. It is incurable—who can know it?
— Jeremiah 17:9 (ISV)
For further reading
- Nanomotors are controlled, for the first time, inside living cells
— Penn State News
- Nanomotors controlled inside living human cells for the first time
— The Verge
A demonstration of very active gold nanorods internalized inside living cell