The Fantastic Voyage of Nanoswimmers

Resembling a scene from the 1960s sci-fi movie, “Fantastic Voyage,” a shrunken crew of researchers journeys through a human body using a miniature submarine to do battle from within.  Sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) CB/ JSTO, researchers are using nanoswimmers to deliver life-saving countermeasures to protect against chemical and biological threats to warfighters.

A team of researchers led by Joseph Wang of the University of California at San Diego demonstrated a template electrosynthesis that allows for large-scale and low-cost preparation of magnetically driven tailored nanoswimmers that display efficient propulsion behavior and hold considerable promise for future miniature devices in the human body.

Representation of the template electrosynthesis of magnetically-driven helical nanoswimmers. (Image courtesy of Dr. Joseph Wang, University of California at San Diego)

Representation of the template electrosynthesis of magnetically-driven helical nanoswimmers. (Image courtesy of Dr. Joseph Wang, University of California at San Diego)

In the article, Template electrosynthesis of tailored-made helical nanoswimmers, highlighted in Nanoscale, a scientific journal, the team revealed their method overcame a bottleneck in the development of nanoscale structures capable of controlled movement in liquids, which is a major current nanotechnological challenge.

Previous routes for fabricating helical micro/nanoswimmers required specialized and expensive instrumentation, and dimensions were commonly limited by the resolution of optical lithography.

This new synthesis employed a method, template-directed electrodeposition, which cost less, was more readily scalable to mass produce and was not limited by optical resolution.

It is possible that such disruptive approaches to medical countermeasures will impact, for example, DTRA’s Nanostructured Active Therapeutic Vehicles and Bioscavenger programs.

These nanoswimmers hold promise for advanced targeted drug delivery systems and biocompatible catalytic countermeasures to ensure the warfighter remains protected from within against biological and chemical attacks.

Story and information by John Davis
Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department

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