Mosquito-inspired microneedle delivers cancer drugs

Summary:The new tool could deliver chemotherapy drugs, nanoparticles, and laser light directly into a tumor, destroying cancerous tissue with pinpoint accuracy.

Engineers have developed a new tool that could deliver chemotherapy drugs, nanoparticles, and light from lasers directly into a tumor, destroying cancerous tissue with pinpoint accuracy.

Using nature’s example, Christopher Rylander of Virginia Tech and colleagues designed a fiber-optic microneedle device (FMD) -- the same size and shape as a mosquito’s stinger. IEEE Spectrum reports.

When a mosquito lands on you, it inserts a tiny needle several millimeters deep into the skin. The FMD is less than the width of human hair and very sharp so it can be easily inserted into tissue with minimal damage to the surrounding tissue.

It offers 2 cancer-fighting treatments combined into one medical device to find and destroy unwanted tissue:

  1. It can inject fluids directly into a tumor -- delivering things like conventional chemotherapy drugs or more-cutting-edge nanoparticles.
  2. It can also deliver light from powerful lasers.

The team works with lesser-known optical therapy treatments, which use light to destroy cancerous tissue up close.

Common cancer therapies like chemo and radiation have a number of drawbacks. Chemotherapy is delivered directly into the bloodstream and is known for its devastating side effects. Plus, many chemotherapeutic drugs can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, making them ineffective in treating brain cancer. Radiation, at its best, is imprecise, and can create new cancers even as it treats existing ones.

Lasers are very precise, but when light hits the tissue, it becomes very blurry because it can’t stay confined to the region right at the point of delivery. The light scatters out, like headlights in the fog.

So the FMD is designed to control this scattering by delivering both light and light-absorbing nanoparticles at the same time. The nanoparticles are injected into the tumor, and the light is absorbed exactly where it needs to be.

The team wants to move their FMD into clinical trials now.

[Via IEEE Spectrum]

Image: Chester Stojanovich / CDC

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

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