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Honey, I Shrunk the Drug-Delivery System

Remember the classic 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, the Jules Verne-style adventure featuring a hotshot crew of doctors and government agents who shrink to microscopic size to treat a blood clot in an important scientist’s brain? It’s not exactly fiction anymore.

Now, we’re not zapping shrink rays in the ER…just yet. But a recent breakthrough in medical research has made it possible to deliver medical drugs to specific parts of the body with miniaturized nanotechnology, a promising method to treat the diseases of today and tomorrow. (Details were published in the journal Nano Small Micro on September 7, 2016.)

The nanorobot, developed by researchers at the University of California, San Diego and Harbin Institute of Technology in China, moves through the bloodstream like a fish in water. Made out of gold, nickel and silver, this “nanofish” — which is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand — can be moved through the body with the use of oscillating magnetic fields that act on the nickel components to drive forward motion. In future applications, medical personnel could direct the nanofish to the right area of the body by changing the strength and orientation of the magnetic field.

Testing is still in the initial stages (at least, that’s what all the best mad scientists say, right?). Researchers hope to see a version of the nanofish ready for use in humans within the next decade, perhaps sooner.