Originally Published MDDI November 2003R&D DIGESTBiologically Based Nanomotors Could Have Medical ApplicationsErik Swain

Erik Swain

November 1, 2003

3 Min Read
Biologically Based Nanomotors Could Have Medical Applications

Originally Published MDDI November 2003


Erik Swain

Bio-nanomotor assemblies might have such medical applications as traveling the bloodstream to help repair damaged cells, organs, and DNA.

Imagine medical devices so small that 50,000 could fit within the width of a human hair. These visions could become reality within a decade if research into bio-nanomotors bears fruit.

Behind this effort are researchers at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey (New Brunswick, NJ). They are using biological molecules derived from virus-based proteins to build a bio-nanomotor that can perform a linear opening and closing motion. This motor could combine with other structures to form complete nanorobotic assemblies. And these assemblies might have medical applications, such as traveling the bloodstream to help repair damaged cells, organs, and DNA.

Rutgers recently received a four-year, million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation and its Nanoscale Science and Engineering Program to develop such a viral protein nanomotor. The research team hopes to unveil a prototype by 2007. The research is grounded in nanotechnology, which uses atom- or molecule-sized building blocks to assemble tiny structures. But in this case, the blocks are biologically based.

“A large-scale mechanical motor converts, for example, electrical energy into mechanical energy,” says Constantinos Mavroidis. “A device powered by such a motor can move or can apply forces.” Mavroidis is the project's principal investigator and an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Rutgers. 

“A similar situation happens with the biological molecular-sized motor. This time, chemical energy is converted into mechanical energy. A nanodevice that will be powered by the bio-nanomotor will be able to move or apply forces.”

The Rutgers team includes researchers in chemistry, physics, and chemical, biochemical, and biomechanical engineering. Team members come from the University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT) and Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ), as well as Rutgers. 

Combining a nanomotor with biological elements is “really very new,” Mavroidis says. “No one has tried this to the extent that we're doing it.” The idea came about two years ago, during conversations that included Martin Yarmush, chairman of Rutgers's biomedical engineering department. “Because the motor will be used in an assembly of various biological components, we considered using proteins and DNA molecules as building blocks,” Mavroidis says.

It is too early to pinpoint what medical applications could emerge, Mavroidis explains. But he envisions “that such a motor will be used to power the joints of nanorobotic devices. Such devices could be used to provide very local and accurate drug delivery” to specific areas inside the body.

He likens developing a bio-nanomotor to developing an internal combustion engine. Combined with other elements, that engine led to cars, airplanes, and other history-changing inventions. To figure out what the Rutgers motor could be combined with, the researchers will draw on their experiences working with large-scale machines. 

“Fundamental components of any machine are motors, sensors, joints, structural elements, transmission elements, power sources, computer/control elements, etc.,” says Mavroidis. “The same type of elements will be needed for bio-nanosystems. They will be made from proteins or DNA. The challenge will be to find the chemical way to assemble them into devices.” 

Copyright ©2003 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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