Israeli researcher unveils cancer-fighting robots

Nano-sized robots created by Dr. Avi Schroeder at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; combat cancer using functional proteins.

May 17, 2011 02:11
2 minute read.
Cancer patients meet with President Peres.

Peres with cancer patients 311. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

New experimental technology using “programmable injectable nano-robots” to treat cancer mestastasis was revealed on Monday at a scientific conference by Dr. Avi Schroeder, an Israeli at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The promising tiny robots, just 170 nanometers in diameter, function like minifactories to produce functional proteins that fight cancer when triggered by irradiated light from an swallowable capsule; this is similar to the Israeli Given Imaging capsule for investigating the gastrointestinal system.

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The four-day conference called Liposomes Jerusalem 2011, which opened at Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hahamisha west of the capital and is being attended by some 300 scientists from Israel and 20 countries abroad, is the first in Israel to concentrate on the artificial globules of fat used as a drug-delivery system. It is organized by and honors the 70th birthday of Prof. Yechezkel Barenholz, a worldfamous biochemist who is one of the handful of Israeli researchers to develop a commercially sold medication.

Barenholz told The Jerusalem Post at the conference that he continues to develop potential drugs based on liposomes. At present he is also studying the applications of liposomes for vaccination against infectious diseases and cancer, the mechanism of antioxidant action and therapy, and for gene therapy.

His most famous drug, Doxil – developed with Prof. Alberto Gabizon, formerly of Hadassah University Medical Center and now head of oncology at Shaare Zedek Medical Center – is used round the world to deliver doxorubicin chemotherapy with liposomes; approved for human use in the US 15 years ago and in 1997 in Europe, it is widely used to treat ovarian cancer and breast cancer and is in the process of being approved for other types of tumors.

Schroeder said that it’s important to fight metastases, as 90 percent of cancer fatalities result from the seeding of tumors by the original tumor to other organs and tissues. Using nano-robots and liposomes, he said, the chemotherapy penetrates the cells better.

The name liposome is derived from two Greek words “lipo” (meaning fat) and “soma (meaning body). They were were first described by British hematologist Dr. Alec Bangham in 1961 at Cambridge. Liposomes have a natural ability to target cancer, as the endothelial wall of all healthy human blood vessels is encapsulated by endothelial cells that are bound together by tight junctions that prevent any large particles in the blood from leaking out. But liposomes of nanosize can rapidly enter tumor sites from the blood and are kept in the bloodstream by the endothelial wall.

On Monday night, Barenholz was to bestow the International Barenholz Prizes on outstanding young researchers; he established the award with revenue from his drug discoveries including

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