We’ve seen 3D printing used to both test for and even work to eliminate male infertility, but now, some of the same researchers from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences (IIN) at IFW Dresden in Germany who worked on speeding up sperm cells with 3D printed bots are working to use the same technology to help treat cervical cancer.
The research team is developing a biohybrid sperm microbot, which could be used in the future to deliver anti-cancer drugs to cancerous tumors in women’s reproductive tracts. While spermbots may sound like a strange way to fight cancer, the team explained that “sperm are a natural fit for the job.”They recently published a paper describing the microbot, titled “Sperm-Hybrid Micromotor for Targeted Drug Delivery,” in the ACS Nano journal; co-authors include Haifeng Xu, Mariana Medina-Sánchez, Veronika Magdanz, Lukas Schwarz, Franziska Hebenstreit, and Oliver G. Schmidt.
Medina-Sánchez, leader of the Micro and Nanobiomedical Engineering Group at the IIN, told Live Science, “We decided to work with sperm cells because they have the ability to naturally swim in the female reproductive tract. The sperm has the natural ability to fuse with the [egg cell], and this is very beneficial. It can do the same thing with the cancer cells and release the drug inside the cancer cells, making the treatment much more effective.”
The microbot is a plastic, 3D printed microstructure, combined with sperm from a bull, and covered with an iron-based coating so researchers can magnetically steer the biohybrid bot to its target – the tumor. Four arms on the microstructure bend automatically to release the sperm cell once the bot arrives at the tumor, and the sperm is able to get through the cancer cells to deliver a cancer treatment drug.
For the purposes of the study, the researchers used cervical cancer drug doxorubicin hydrochloride, because it doesn’t affect sperm cells the way it affects cancerous cells. The drug was loaded into the head of the sperm cell, which protects it from the environment, and the spermbots were put to the test of delivering drugs to cervical cancer cells in lab dishes.
While Medina-Sánchez noted that the experiments in the lab were successful, the team is still working out some issues, such as making the iron-coated plastic structure biodegradable so it dissolves once the drug is released. In addition, while the researchers can only guide single sperm cells now, the goal is to be able steer several at once for maximum drug delivery, as well as using the spermbots for multiple types of gynecological cancers, not just cervical cancer.
As of right now, the 3D printed microstructure is only a little larger than a sperm’s head, which is 5 x 10 micrometers, and is invisible to current drug delivery systems, so it will need to be sized up before it can be used in hospitals. In addition, available imaging techniques aren’t precise enough for doctors to monitor the spermbot’s movement inside the body in real time, which is another goal of the project.
“Ideally, we would like to visualize [the spermbots] in real-time in the deep tissue … to really bring [the bots] to the target position. But currently, the spatial resolution of magnetic resonance or ultrasound imaging systems is only about 100 micrometers,” said Medina-Sánchez.
Similar to artificial insemination, the sperm cells could even be injected with a catheter into the female reproductive system one day. So while the technology is not quite ready for practical applications – the team hopes to move to animal experiments in the future, as well as use human sperm rather than bull sperm – with hard work, it could join the myriad of other innovative cancer treatments made possible through 3D printing technology.
What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[Source: Live Science]