Dec 22, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers from Germany's Institute for Integrative Nanosciences (IIN), IFW Dresden have developed 3D printed robots powered by bull sperm cells. The bots can be loaded with a cervical cancer drug called doxorubicin hydrochloride and could one day be used to treat human patients.

It’s been a good few months since we last heard about the incredible 3D printed spermbots being developed at the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences in Dresden, Germany. Now, the same researchers are back with good news: they’ve published a paper on their recent work, and say their latest cancer-fighting swimmers—again made with bull sperm—are showing great promise.

Each biohybrid sperm microrobot consists of sperm from a bull, which is combined with a plastic, 3D printed microstructure covered with an iron-based coating. The metal coating lets the researchers magnetically “steer” the robot where it needs to go, before four bendable arms on the microstructure release the sperm cell toward targeted cancer cells.

Strange though it sounds, sperm are actually very useful for this task, since they have the ability to naturally swim in the female reproductive tract. Better still, sperm cells can naturally fuse with an egg cell, and can repeat the trick on cancer cells, allowing the spermbots to release the vital cervical cancer medication inside cancerous cells.

The drug currently being used by the researchers is doxorubicin hydrochloride, which can be loaded into the head of each sperm cell. Usefully, the drug doesn’t have any noticeable effect on the sperm cell, so it can continue to swim freely even with its vital medical cargo on board.

These 3D printed spermbots aren’t ready for use on humans yet, but the Dresden researchers have carried out successful tests in lab dishes. Eventually, they hope to trial the procedure in animals, and then later switch up the bull sperm for human sperm.

Before serious progress can be made, however, the researchers need to overcome a few barriers: for starters, they want to make the plastic structure of the bots biodegradable so it dissolves immediately after drug delivery, something that could minimize immunological and other reactions.

Another hurdle involves finding a way to steer multiple sperm cells at once. At the moment, the researchers are able to control one bot at a time, but need to do this with several at once in order to deliver the requisite amount of medication.

Doing so, however, would require better imaging technology to allow doctors to monitor the progress of the tiny robots. Currently, the spatial resolution of magnetic resonance and ultrasound imaging systems is about 100 micrometers, which is insufficient for the task since a sperm head measures just five by 10 micrometers.

The goal, the researchers say, is to have a high-res system that would enable the real-time monitoring of the entire spermbot swarm.

Despite these challenges, the Dresden researchers are highly optimistic that their unusual-sounding technique will eventually be used for its designated purpose. They even think it could be used to tackle other forms of cancer besides cervical cancer, including ovarian cancer and cancer of the uterus.

The robo-sperm would be injected into the female reproductive system with a catheter, in a procedure similar to artificial insemination.

The researchers’ latest paper, “Sperm-Hybrid Micromotor for Targeted Drug Delivery,” has been published in the journal ACS Nano. Its authors were Haifeng Xu, Mariana Medina-Sánchez, Veronika Magdanz, Lukas Schwarz, Franziska Hebenstreit, and Oliver G. Schmidt.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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