Tiny algae-made robots treat inflammatory bowel disease without drug

Tiny algae-made robots treat inflammatory bowel disease without drug

Tiny algae-made robots treat inflammatory bowel disease without drug

Researchers from the University of San Diego engineered a microrobot inside a liquid pill, and it treated inflammatory bowel disease without the need for drugs.

About 7 million worldwide have irritable bowel disease, and that number has only increased over the past 20 years, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The medications on the market currently for IBD often come with a range of side effects, some troubling, too, though they manage the disease,” said study co-author Zhengxing told Interesting Engineering. One can experience nausea, weight gain, and even liver toxicity.

“This is why research into new treatments, such as biohybrid microrobots, is so important, as they aim to reduce side effects while maintaining therapeutic efficacy.”

After conducting experiments with disease-fighting microrobots on mice with promising success, the team from the University of San Diego has now turned sights toward irritable bowel disease caused by a cellular dysfunction.

IDB affects millions worldwide

In IDB, macrophages, a type of immune cell begins producing excessive levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These proteins then stick to macrophage receptors which triggers them to produce even more of this inflammatory protein. But UC San Diego researchers can break that cycle with a microrobot.

In previous experiments, UCD researchers delivered drugs with microrobots, most notably in the lungs, and succeeded in minimizing the drug’s side effects. For the IBD study, however, they didn’t even need to use a drug.

“The beauty of this approach,” they stated in a press release, “is that it’s drug-free. We just leverage the natural cell membrane to absorb and neutralize pro-inflammatory cytokines.”

The journey of the microrobot

The development of microrobots for disease treatment began with synthetic materials like metals and polymers but faced several challenges due to toxicity. A breakthrough in the field occurred when biohybrid magnetically guided bacteria-based microrobots became a reality.

“These robots could be directed to specific sites within the body using external magnetic fields, offering a degree of control that was previously unattainable,” Li said.

The team from UC San Diego made a significant contribution to the field by integrating organic materials, specifically the microalgae strain Chlamydomonas reinhardtii because of its compatibility with the human body. The algae even enabled microrobots to swim toward disease sites —and fast.

This novel approach allowed them to deliver drugs with impressive efficacy. But as the IBD experiment shows, the microrobot can also function like a drug.

They tailored the IBD biohybrid robot by combining algae with macrophage membrane-coated nanoparticles (MΦNPs) to actively target and neutralize pro-inflammatory cytokines. Its success, as a treatment, hinges on the synergy between the dynamic movement of biohybrid microrobots and the cytokine-binding properties of MΦNPs.

A robot inside a pill delivers a 12 hour retention rate

Putting the tiny robot inside a pill, to complete a successful journey to the human colon, it would have to survive the acidity of the stomach. So they engineered a pH coating around a liquid capsule that matches the pH in the colon. Effectively, “it neutralizes colonic cytokine levels,” Zhengxing said,” thereby treating the disease at the source better than medications currently on the market.

In this study, they assessed the algae microrobot’s efficiency at addressing both prevention and treatment. In both models, she continued, they administered one microrobot capsule per day to the trial mice. They found that the microrobot could remain in the colonic area for up to 12 hours post-administration due to its motility.  As IBD is a chronic condition, it requires long-term treatment, which the microrobot is able to provide: drug retention.

During the 10-day period trial, “the formulation had no significant impact on the mice’s body weight, blood chemistry, blood cell counts, and gastrointestinal tissues compared to the control group, confirming its excellent biosafety profile.”

As stated in a press release, “the treatment reduced fecal bleeding, improved stool consistency, reversed IBD-induced weight loss and reduced inflammation in the colon, all without apparent side effects.”

The microrobot’s journey continues to reach human clinical trials.  

Their paper, “Biohybrid microrobots regulate colonic cytokine levels and modulate epithelium barrier restoration in inflammatory bowel disease,” has been published in Science Robotics.

Source: Interesting Engineering

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Tiny algae-made robots treat inflammatory bowel disease without drug

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