The way we deliver drugs into our bodies has come a long way thanks to advances in biology, medicine and engineering. Here are just three cool recent examples
1. Robotic pills
Engineers at the University of Wollongong, led by Professor Gursel Alici, are developing pills that can be remotely ‘driven’ through a patient’s body to diagnose and treat gastrointestinal tract diseases. Currently, examining the gut means inserting a long tube with a camera (two guesses where it’s inserted?). Instead, this ‘robotic’ capsule is wireless and driven using a system of magnets – enabling the patient to go on with their day while their insides are screened! It could also be used to deliver drugs to treat disease at the site. And the capsule may even be able to take biopsies (tissue samples) one day.
Cancer treatments might one day involve tiny, self-propelled ‘micro-submarines’ powered by ‘nano-motors’ delivering drugs directly to affected organs, thanks to research from chemical and biomedical engineers at UNSW. The engineers developed ‘submarine-like’ micrometre-sized metallic particles that take advantage of variations in biological environments, such as different levels of acidity, to automatically navigate inside the body. One ‘capsule’ swallowed by a patient could contain millions of micro-submarines, each of which could contain millions of drug molecules. This means the drugs could be delivered straight into a cell, or the site of a cancer. This is great news for reducing the side effects cancer patients can experience from drugs used in chemotherapy, for example.
3. Good vibrations
In 2016, experts at RMIT University in Melbourne created a new type of ‘soundwave’ using electricity to create vibrations, which are used to turn liquid into a spray. “It’s basically ‘yelling’ at the liquid so it vibrates, breaking it down into vapour,” explains lead researcher and engineering lecturer Dr Amgad Rezk. Researchers have already used it in a new inhaler to deliver needle-free vaccines. The new soundwave could even be used to inhale stem cells (which can turn into different types of cells with specific functions) straight into the lungs to repair lung tissue.
This article originally appeared in Careers with STEM: Engineering 2019
Interested in a career in biomedical engineering? Start here
Author: Gemma Chilton
Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.