Targeting tumours

Targeting tumours

Remote-controlled microcarriers make a nano-medical breakthrough by delivering anti-cancer drugs with precision
March 30, 2011
Sylvain Martel and his team have made a promising

Sylvain Martel and his team have made a promising step in cancer treatment and performed a world-first by successfully delivering an anti-cancer drug to a targeted area in the liver of a rabbit.
École Polytechnique de Montréal

Targeting a cancerous tumour with localized, high-concentration chemotherapy drugs can be an effective way of destroying a tumour, but surrounding healthy tissue often gets damaged in the process. Now, thanks to a world-first in remote-controlled delivery of anti-cancer drugs developed at École Polytechnique de Montréal, tumours can be pinpointed without risk to the surrounding tissue.

Sylvain Martel and his team at the university’s Nanorobotics Laboratory recently published their work on the successful procedure in the journal Biomaterials. The researchers describe how they used microcarriers to deliver doxorubicin, a drug used in cancer chemotherapy, with pinpoint precision into a rabbit liver. The microcarriers, known as therapeutic magnetic microcarriers (TMMCs), are biodegradable polymers that are thinner than a strand of hair. 

Developed by PhD candidate Pierre Pouponneau, the TMMCs encapsulate the therapeutic agents with magnetic nanoparticles to create magnetic capsules of an anti-cancer drug that can be guided using an MRI through the bloodstream to the tumour.


Over the past four years, Martel and his team have been striving to create a nanorobotic device that is small enough to carry drugs to tumour sites. In 2007, they injected and tracked a device through a living pig artery, and in 2010, the team guided bacteria in a drop of water to build a nanopyramid of epoxy bricks.

With more testing, Martel says they can begin treating people within the next four to seven years. ”We’re confident this treatment will work on a variety of cancers so we’re looking forward to being able to help people.”

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