Israeli scientists use nanobots and thoughts to control when drugs are administered

Researchers say new method monitors brain activity, could be used to preempt flare-up of mental disorders such as schizophrenia

A person wearing an EEG cap (screen capture: YouTube)
A person wearing an EEG cap (screen capture: YouTube)

Israeli scientists say they have come up with a way for brain power to control when drugs are released into the body, by using tiny robots made out of DNA to deliver the medication internally.

Researchers at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan have built the nanobots to which medication is attached and then are injected into the body. The nanobots have a “gate” that opens or closes — thereby controlling drug release — depending on brain activity.

In order to achieve this, the New Scientist magazine said, the researchers developed a computer algorithm that could tell whether a person’s brain was resting or carrying out some form of mental activity, such as math problems. A fluorescent-tinted drug was then added to the nanobots, which were injected into a cockroach placed inside an electromagnetic coil.

This coil was then connected to an EEG cap worn by a person asked to perform mental calculations. The computer recognized increased brain activity by the cap wearer, which triggered the “gate” on the nanobots inside the cockroach, releasing the fluorescent drug that was visible as it spread through the insect’s body.

The idea is to use the delivery system for people with mental health issues, which are sometimes triggered before sufferers are aware they need medication. By monitoring brain activity, the nanobots could deliver the required preventative drugs automatically, for example before a violent episode of schizophrenia.

IDC Herzliya (Courtesy)
IDC Herzliya (Courtesy)

Sachar Arnon of the IDC told the New Scientist that the computer algorithm could be developed to monitor a variety of brain activity. “It could track brain states that underlie ADHD or schizophrenia, for example. It could be modified to suit your needs,” Arnon said.

But before that stage, the scientists need to develop a smaller, more portable method of measuring brain activity, although Arnon says that this is not too far off. The researchers envision some form of device about the size of a hearing aid to monitor the brain and deliver medication as needed.

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