Research ArticleMEDICAL ROBOTS

Soft erythrocyte-based bacterial microswimmers for cargo delivery

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Science Robotics  25 Apr 2018:
Vol. 3, Issue 17, eaar4423
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aar4423


Bacteria-propelled biohybrid microswimmers have recently shown to be able to actively transport and deliver cargos encapsulated into their synthetic constructs to specific regions locally. However, usage of synthetic materials as cargo carriers can result in inferior performance in load-carrying efficiency, biocompatibility, and biodegradability, impeding clinical translation of biohybrid microswimmers. Here, we report construction and external guidance of bacteria-driven microswimmers using red blood cells (RBCs; erythrocytes) as autologous cargo carriers for active and guided drug delivery. Multifunctional biohybrid microswimmers were fabricated by attachment of RBCs [loaded with anticancer doxorubicin drug molecules and superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs)] to bioengineered motile bacteria, Escherichia coli MG1655, via biotin-avidin-biotin binding complex. Autonomous and on-board propulsion of biohybrid microswimmers was provided by bacteria, and their external magnetic guidance was enabled by SPIONs loaded into the RBCs. Furthermore, bacteria-driven RBC microswimmers displayed preserved deformability and attachment stability even after squeezing in microchannels smaller than their sizes, as in the case of bare RBCs. In addition, an on-demand light-activated hyperthermia termination switch was engineered for RBC microswimmers to control bacteria population after operations. RBCs, as biological and autologous cargo carriers in the biohybrid microswimmers, offer notable advantages in stability, deformability, biocompatibility, and biodegradability over synthetic cargo-carrier materials. The biohybrid microswimmer design presented here transforms RBCs from passive cargo carriers into active and guidable cargo carriers toward targeted drug and other cargo delivery applications in medicine.

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