Breakthrough Holds Promise for Medicine: Synthetic Nanomotors Controlled Inside Live Human Cells

Penn State University chemists and engineers have placed tiny synthetic motors inside live human cells, propelled them with ultrasonic waves, and steered them magnetically. Up until now, nanomotors have been studied only in vitro in a laboratory apparatus, not in live human cells. "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," says Tom Mallouk, 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." For their experiments, the team uses HeLa cells, an immortal line of human cervical cancer cells that typically is used in research studies. These cells ingest the gold nanomotors, which then move around within the cell tissue, powered by ultrasonic waves.