Drug-Loaded Robo-Sperm Enlisted To Cure Cancer

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Delivering cancer-killing drugs to their intended target is a huge challenge in treatment, but scientists are now enlisting a little help from their friends: sperm. A team of researchers recently discovered a way to fight gynecological cancers by strapping what are basically tiny mechanical helmets to sperm, arming them with medicine, and sending them into battle. What’s more: these drug-carrying, helmet-wearing little soldiers can be navigated by doctors. These souped-up sperm are basically microscopic, remote controlled scud missiles sent to destroy cancer.

The research comes out of Institute for Integrative Nanosciences in Germany and describes a unique yet seemingly simple approach. After scientists soak sperm in a chemotherapy drug called Doxorubicin, they then coat their heads in micro-motor bearing iron. This acts like a tiny harness and allows medical professionals to inject sperm into ovarian cancer patients and then steer the medicine-carrying swimmers towards cancerous tumors or other such diseases via magnets. It’s like the weirdest version of Hot Wheels ever.

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sperm hybrid micromotor

Schematic illustration of the sperm-hybrid micromotor and the sperm release process | Institute for Integrative Nanosciences

Despite the fact that the harnesses reduced sperm speed by about 43 percent, researchers found that they could still move and penetrate cancerous spheroids, helping them kill cancer cells from the inside. Sperm had other unique delivery advantages over such methods as bacteria, which, unlike sperm, can trigger other immune responses and multiply to form colonies. Interestingly, sperm actually protected medicine from enzymes that could damage it and didn’t abandon it — an issue associated other drug delivery systems such as using molecular cages called micelles. Simply, sperm are pretty good dads.

It’s important to note that, while the results are certainly promising, this research is not yet peer reviewed. The MIT Technology Review called the work “impressive,” however. While “cyborg sperm” have been used to help treat infertility issues caused by low motility, the sperm have come to curing diseases was back in 2003 when a study said that swallowing semen could reduce breast cancer risk by up to 40 percent. To which women responded, “Nice try, scientists.”

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