Nano-robots seek and destroy tumours

Tiny robots, patrolling human body, search for malignant tumors and destroy them from within. It shows the prospect of being a realistic scenario, rather than a science fiction. What happens in biomedical industry is that a multi-purpose anti-tumour nanoparticle called “nanoporphyrin” is being developed to help diagnose and treat cancers.


The research, published in Nature Communications, shows that the advent of medically important nano-robot may not be far off. It is believed to efficiently and safely diagnose and treat the patients with cancer.

“Soft” organic nanoparticle acts as drug-delivery carriers, some of which have been proved or are in clinical trials for tumour treatment. Its small size offers an intrinsic advantage as it can be engulfed by and accumulated in tumour cells, where it can act on two levels: to aid diagnosis in enhancing the contrast on the molecule level; To be loaded with anti-tumour drugs on the micelle level.

Armed with anti-tumour drugs

The armed nano-robot particles can target and deliver the drug into tumour tissue, when a tumour-recognition module is installed in a delivery nano-robot (organic particle). They kill only those cells, while being harmless to surrounding healthy cells and tissues.

If a tumour-recognition module is installed in a probe nano-robot (inorganic particle), the armed nano-robot particles can get into tumour tissue and activate a measurable signal to help doctors better diagnose tumours.

It has been a huge challenge to integrate these functions on the one nanoparticle. It’s difficult to combine the imaging functions and light-absorbing ability for phototherapy in organic nanoparticles as drug carriers. This has, until now, hampered development of smart and versatile “all-in one” organic nanoparticles for tumour diagnosis and treatment.


A smart and versatile theranostic nanomedicine platform based on nanoporphyrin. Nature Communications; 2014.

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