Bladder Cancer Treatment: Urea-Powered Nanorobots Reduce Tumors by 90% in Mouse Study

Bladder cancer, ranking as the fourth most common tumor in men, poses a significant global health challenge. Despite its comparatively low mortality rate, the high recurrence rate and the need for frequent hospital visits make it one of the most expensive cancers to treat. Current therapies involving direct drug administration into the bladder exhibit limited efficacy, prompting researchers to explore innovative solutions. A recent study published in Nature Nanotechnology unveils a groundbreaking approach—urea-powered nanorobots—that significantly reduces bladder tumors in mice, opening new avenues for efficient and cost-effective cancer treatments.

The study, led by the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and CIC biomaGUNE in collaboration with the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), focuses on urea-powered nanorobots. These nanomachines, constructed from a porous silica sphere, are equipped with unique components. The enzyme urease, reacting with urea present in urine, propels the nanoparticle through the bladder. Additionally, the inclusion of radioactive iodine allows for localized tumor treatment.

The researchers observed an unprecedented 90% decrease in bladder tumor volume in mice following a single dose of urea-powered nanorobots. This efficiency is particularly noteworthy, given that current treatments often necessitate multiple hospital appointments. Samuel Sánchez, leader of the study, emphasizes the potential of this treatment approach in reducing hospitalization length and overall costs.

Previous research established the self-propulsion capacity of nanorobots, enabling them to reach all bladder walls. The recent study delves further into the specific accumulation of nanorobots within the tumor. Advanced imaging techniques, including medical positron emission tomography (PET) and fluorescence microscopy, revealed not only the mobility of nanoparticles but also their preferential accumulation in the tumor.

The study uncovered that nanorobots can break down the extracellular matrix of the tumor by locally increasing the pH through a self-propelling chemical reaction. This unique ability enhances tumor penetration and accumulation, even in the absence of specific antibodies to recognize the tumor. The mobility of nanorobots increases the likelihood of reaching and effectively treating the tumor.

The promising results of this study pave the way for innovative bladder cancer treatments. The localized administration of nanorobots carrying radioisotopes reduces the probability of adverse effects and enhances the therapeutic effect. The ongoing research aims to determine the potential recurrence of tumors after treatment, marking the next crucial step in this groundbreaking medical advancement.

The technology behind these nanorobots, developed over seven years by Samuel Sánchez and his team, has been recently patented. Nanobots Therapeutics, a spin-off of IBEC and ICREA, aims to bridge the gap between research and clinical application. The successful closure of the first funding round in June 2023 indicates strong support and enthusiasm for the future development and application of this groundbreaking technology.

Working with nanorobots presented unique challenges in bioimaging. Traditional clinical techniques lacked the necessary resolution for visualizing these tiny particles. The researchers at IRB Barcelona developed an innovative microscopy technique using polarized light to cancel out scattering from tumor tissue, allowing for the visualization and location of nanorobots without prior tagging.

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