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Nanorobots Guided by Magnets Capable of Rapid, Targeted Elimination of Fungal Pathogens

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 30 May 2023
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Image: Electromagnetic cores precisely guide the array of nanozyme-bots as they target the site of fungal infection (Photo courtesy of University of Pennsylvania)
Image: Electromagnetic cores precisely guide the array of nanozyme-bots as they target the site of fungal infection (Photo courtesy of University of Pennsylvania)

Fungal infections, particularly those caused by Candida albicans, present a significant health threat globally due to their resistance to current treatments. Although nanomaterials show potential as antifungal agents, their current versions lack the potency and specificity required for quick and targeted treatment, leading to extended treatment durations and possible unintended effects and drug resistance. Now, in a breakthrough development with wide-ranging implications for global health, researchers have developed a microrobotic system that can quickly and accurately eliminate fungal pathogens.

The team of researchers at University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA, USA) leveraged engineering and computational methods to gain new insights into disease mitigation and promote innovation in oral and craniofacial healthcare. Taking advantage of recent developments in catalytic nanoparticles, also known as nanozymes, they constructed miniature robotic systems that could accurately target and quickly eradicate fungal cells. They accomplished this by manipulating electromagnetic fields to control the shape and movements of these nanozyme microrobots with high accuracy. They engineered the motion, speed, and formations of the nanozymes, resulting in increased catalytic activity, similar to the enzyme peroxidase that aids in breaking down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. This action facilitates the production of large quantities of reactive oxygen species (ROS), compounds known for their biofilm-destroying properties, directly at the infection site.

The truly revolutionary aspect of these nanozyme assemblies was an unanticipated finding: their robust binding affinity to fungal cells. This feature allows a localized accumulation of nanozymes precisely at the location of the fungi, leading to targeted ROS generation. Combined with the inherent maneuverability of the nanozyme, this leads to a powerful antifungal effect, demonstrating the swift eradication of fungal cells within an unprecedented timeframe of just 10 minutes. The team sees huge potential in this unique nanozyme-based robotics approach as they incorporate new strategies to automate the control and delivery of nanozymes. The promise it holds for antifungal therapy is just the beginning. Its precise targeting and rapid action suggest potential for treating other types of stubborn infections. This robotics approach signals a new chapter in the battle against fungal infections and represents a turning point in antifungal therapy. With this new tool, medical and dental practitioners are closer than ever to effectively tackling these challenging pathogens.

“We’ve uncovered a powerful tool in the fight against pathogenic fungal infections,” said Hyun (Michel) Koo of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine who led the research team. “What we have achieved here is a significant leap forward, but it’s also just the first step. The magnetic and catalytic properties combined with unexpected binding specificity to fungi open exciting opportunities for an automated ‘target-bind-and-kill’ antifungal mechanism. We are eager to delve deeper and unlock its full potential.”

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