Nanorobotics System Presents New Options for Targeting Fungal Infections

Penn Dental Medicine


Infections caused by fungi, such as Candida albicans, pose a significant global health risk due to their resistance to existing treatments, so much so that the World Health Organization has highlighted this as a priority issue. Although nanomaterials show promise as antifungal agents, current iterations lack the potency and specificity needed for quick and targeted treatment, leading to prolonged treatment times and potential off-target effects and drug resistance. Now, in a groundbreaking development with far-reaching implications for global health, a team of researchers jointly led by Michel Koo of Penn Dental Medicine and Edward Steager of Penn Engineering have created a system using nanorobotics that is capable of rapid, targeted elimination of fungal pathogens. The team of researchers is a part of Penn Dental’s Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry.


Nanorobotics System Presents New Options for Targeting Fungal Infections

In this study, published in Advanced Materials, the researchers capitalized on recent advancements in catalytic nanoparticles, known as nanozymes, and they built miniature robotic systems that could accurately target and quickly destroy fungal cells. They achieved this by using electromagnetic fields to control the shape and movements of these nanozyme microrobots with great precision.

Steager’s team developed the motion, velocity, and formations of nanozyme assemblies, which resulted in enhanced catalytic activity, much like the enzyme peroxidase, which helps break down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. This directly allows the generation of high amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS), compounds that have proven biofilm-destroying properties, at the site of infection.

However, the pioneering element of these nanozyme assemblies was their strong binding affinity to fungal cells. This feature enables a localized accumulation of nanozymes precisely where the fungi reside and, consequently, targeted ROS generation.
Coupled with the nanozyme’s inherent maneuverability, this results in a potent antifungal effect, demonstrating the rapid eradication of fungal cells within an unprecedented 10-minute window.

Looking forward, the team sees the potential of this unique nanozyme-based robotics approach, as they incorporate new methods to automate control and delivery of these nanobots. The promise it holds for antifungal therapy is just the beginning. Its precise targeting, rapid action suggest potential for treating other types of stubborn infections.

“We’ve uncovered a powerful tool in the fight against pathogenic fungal infections,” Koo says. “What we have achieved here is a significant leap forward, but it’s also just the first step. We are eager to delve deeper and unlock its full potential.”

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