Developed by researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas, a microscopically tiny motor is the smallest, fastest, and longest-running nanomotor to date.
At under one micrometer in size -- 500 times smaller than a grain of salt -- the motor is small enough to fit inside a human cell. It is also capable of running for 15 continuous hours, at a speed of 18,000 RPM -- the same speed, the researchers said, as the motor in a jet engine. Comparatively, most nanomotors usually run at speeds between 14 and 500 RPM.
The motor has been successfully designed, assembled and tested in a non-biological environment, and it can perform three tasks: it can move through liquids and both mix and pump biochemicals. To test its drug delivery capabilities, the researchers coated its surface with biochemicals. The faster the motor spun, the faster the drugs were released.
"We were able to establish and control the molecule release rate by mechanical rotation, which means our nanomotor is the first of its kind for controlling the release of drugs from the surface of nanoparticles," said lead researcher and mechanical engineering assistant professor DongleiFan. "We believe it will help advance the study of drug delivery and cell-to-cell communications."
Potential applications for the device include powering nanomachines for the controlled delivery of insulin, or the treatment of cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
The full study can be found online in the journal Nature Communications.