SciFi Nanomotor Now a Reality
Engineers at the University of Texas are making progress toward the goal of creating tiny nanomotors or nano-machines that can move through the body administering drug treatments and targeting harmful cells. The nano-machine is small enough to be capable of “cell to cell” communications and moves around in the body using ultrasonic waves, spinning against cell membranes and eventually moving inside.
Controllable Drug Release in Cells
Professor of mechanical engineering and inventor Ms. Dongelei Fan and her team created a biochemical coated machine small enough to fit inside a human cell with a motor that rotates at 18,000 RPM continuously for up to 15 hours; this is the same rotational speed as a jet engine. The rate of release of the drug is controlled by the mechanical rotation of the spinning nanomotor: the faster the rotation, the more drug released.
The nanomotors are described as scaled-down micromechanical systems (MEMS) that use the electrostatic force as the main mechanism for sensing and actuation. This new area of study, now known as Nano Electro Mechanical Systems (NEMS), has been a challenge with respect to energy efficiency and cost. Nanomotors use energy to move, whereas “nanoparticles” use biochemical signaling.
The total size of these nanomotors is one square micrometer, making it small enough to fit into most cells.
Dongelei and her team are in the process of determining how to best deliver exact amounts of drugs to nearby cells so as to effectively combat disease. Another goal is to program nanomotors to engulf harmful cells after they are destroyed.
Dongeliei is also working to design robotic arms and other diagnostic instruments that can be deployed on a nanomotor, performing diagnostic and medical procedures on individual cells.
The study so far has led the team to conclude that nanomotors do not adversely affect healthy cells and this is undergoing further testing. The following video shows the nanomotor in action.
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References and related content:
- Materials Science & Engineering | Donglei Fan (Ph.D. 2007) Develops World’s Smallest, Fastest Nanomotor
- Engineers build worlds smallest, fastest nanomotor | National Science Foundation
- World’s Tiniest Motor is 500 Times Smaller Than a Grain of Salt – Popular Mechanics