For the first time, nanoengineers have successfully used micromotors — tiny magnesium-based engines no bigger than half the width of a human hair — to treat a bacterial infection in the stomach, according to a statement by the University of California at San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering.
The findings are published in the Aug. 16 issue of the journal Nature Communications.
The micromotors are released into the stomach where they swim about rapidly neutralizing gastric acid and releasing antibiotics. Each micromotor has a round magnesium core and is fueled by the reaction of gastric acid with the magnesium, which produces a blast of tiny hydrogen bubbles that propels the micromotor around inside the stomach.
The micromotors are biodegradable and the magnesium cores along with their binding polymer layers are dissolved by the stomach’s gastric acid without harmful effects.
Delivery of drugs to neutralize gastric acid and treat bacterial infections, such as ulcers, by micromotors avoids the use of proton pump inhibitors, which currently are employed to suppress gastric acid production but have several unwanted side effects, including diarrhea, headaches, and depression.
“It’s a one-step treatment with these micromotors, combining acid neutralization with therapeutic action,” said co-first author Berta Esteban-Fernández de Avila, a postdoctoral scholar at UC-San Diego.
The researchers tested the micromotors — loaded with a dose of the antibiotic clarithromycin — in mice infected with Heliobacter pylori. They gave the mice one antibiotic-filled micromotor once daily for five consecutive days.
Once the treatment regimen was complete, analysis of the bacterial count in each mouse’s stomach showed that treatment with micromotors was slightly more effective than conventional treatment using proton pump inhibitors.
While the work is still at an early stage, the results look promising, according to the researchers, who say their work opens the door to the use of micromotors as delivery vehicles for the treatment of diseases.