Custom suits for worms that can deliver functional cargo
James Bond’s legendary Quartermaster Q provided the special agent with an endless array of tools and gadgets to help him complete his missions. Now, researchers from Japan have shown that they are equally adept at equipping microscopic worms with a surprising arsenal of functional and protective factors.
Osaka University researchers have revealed that tiny free-range worms called nematodes can be coated in hydrogel-based “sheaths” that can be further modified to carry functional cargo. Their study was published in Materials Today Bio†
Nematodes are free-living, microscopic worms that typically live in soil or other environmental niches and can in some cases invade the human body. Anisakis simplex, a nematode that usually lives in marine environments but can colonize humans when ingested, has shown an unusual predilection for cancer cells.
“A. simplex has been reported to sense cancer, possibly by detecting a cancerous odor and attaching itself to cancerous tissue,” said Wildan Mubarok, lead author of the study. “This led us to ask whether it could be used to deliver anti-cancer treatments directly to cancer cells in the human body.”
To investigate this possibility, the researchers first developed a system for applying hydrogel shells to nematodes by dipping them in a series of solutions containing chemicals that bind together to create a gel-like layer over their entire surface. This process essentially fits a suit about 0.01 mm thick to the worm in about 20 minutes.
“The results were very clear,” said Shinji Sakai, the study’s senior author. “The sheaths did not interfere in any way with the survival of the worms and were flexible enough to maintain the worms’ motility and natural ability to detect attractive odors and chemical signals.”
Next, the researchers loaded the shells with functional molecules and found that this protected the worms from ultraviolet light or hydrogen peroxide. In addition, the shells can be loaded with anticancer agents that can transport and deliver the nematodes, protected but unimpeded by their hydrogel armor, to kill cancer cells in vitro.
“Our findings suggest that nematodes could potentially be used in the future to deliver functional cargo to a range of specific targets,” Mubarok says. Given the adaptability of the hydrogel shells, this worm-based delivery system not only holds promise for delivering anticancer drugs to tumor cells in patients, but it also has potential applications in other fields, such as delivering beneficial bacteria to plant roots.
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Wildan Mubarok et al, Nematode surface functionalization with hydrogel shells custom made in situ, Materials Today Bio (2022). DOI: 10.116/j.mtbio.2022.100328
Quote: Tailor-made suits for worms that can deliver functional cargo (2022, June 22) retrieved June 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-custom-worms-functional-cargo.html
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