Swarming Cancer Drugs

Modern medicine is a miracle of science, but it could always be improved. By looking at examples from nature, we can make great leaps in how we treat our sick, from doing brain surgery like a wasp eats through wood or curing cancer by mimicking insect swarms.

Biomimickers love the swarming action of insects. For instance, when finding a new nest due to overcrowding or the need to re-establish a colony around a new queen, bee swarms, for instance, follow scout bees that have gone ahead to find a spot for a new hive. Similarly, cancer researchers at MIT have developed a two-pronged strategy for targeting malignant cells in the body. Gold nanoparticles act as signaling beacons that seek out and recruit chemotherapy-filled nanoparticles to a particular site. The scientists tout their method as possibly delivering up to 40 times more drug to a tumor site than current therapies.

Image: kuddleyteddybear2004

Sharkskin Combats Antibiotic Resistance

Sharklet Technologies has developed an elegant, biomimetic solution to a big health problem: antibiotic resistance. Since the development of penicillin, we’ve been blasting bacteria with so many antibiotics that over time, the microorganisms have developed defenses against them. In order to avoid bacterial growth on implanted medical devices, like urinary catheters, Sharklet created a surface based on sharkskin, which has microscopic scales that discourage bacterial growth.

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Can Mosquito Bites Lead to Less-Painful Shots?

Recently, Indian and Japanese researchers announced the development of a titanium hypodermic needle based on a mosquito’s proboscis, the appendage it uses to extract blood from us when it “bites.” The tiny, tubular organ actually has three prongs, spreading out its interaction with our nerves and allowing the bugs to feast undetected. A three-pronged needle based on the humble mosquito’s could lead to less painful injections--a development that kids all over the world can get behind.

Image: dr_relling

Mussel Beards Could Improve Implanted Medical Devices

In order for mussels to avoid being dinner, they need to find a rocky surface and hold on for dear life--a feat they accomplish by employing a network of fibers around the perimeter of their bodies, called byssus, for adhesion. The two-layered threads offer stretchiness and protection to the sea creatures. Synthetic versions of the byssus could one day be used to better anchor in place medical devices, like pacemakers, implanted in the body.

Image: itspaulkelly

Bone Repair with Worm Glue

The sandcastle worm works hard to build its underwater home, gluing pieces of shells together one by one. To do so, it uses a charged protein adhesive that acts as a sort of cement that can maintain a bond in a wet environment. University of Utah researchers are looking to synthesize a similar adhesive that could be used to help set and repair bones, replacing the screws and other hardware that the medical establishment currently uses to re-fuse bone fragments.

Image: Ken Ichi

Wood Wasp-Inspired Brain Surgery

When a female wood wasp is ready to lay her eggs, she uses her ovipositor, a probe that acts as a biological drill, to bore into the side of a pine tree and drop off her unborn young. The ovipositor has two dovetailed teeth-bearing valves that alternately push deeper into the tree trunk, like a boxer throwing combination blows. Scientists at Imperial College London believe the same principles could be used to design a brain-boring surgical robot that could get to tumors with more precision and a lot less tissue damage.

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Better Brain Implants from Sea Cucumbers

If sea cucumbers had their druthers, they’d be left alone to shuffle along the ocean floor. But, like most animals, they have predators, which they attempt to avoid by using an ingenious defense mechanism: the ability to make their body go from soft to extremely rigid instantaneously (stop chuckling, it's serious). Engineers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, hope to design a material that mimics the sea cucumber’s behavior, allowing for brain implants that can be rigid during implantation, but can soften and conform to tissue surfaces once implanted. The material could help increase the effectiveness of deep brain stimulation, essentially a pacemaker for the brain, that is a therapy often used in treating Parkinson’s disease.

Image: Nemo's Great Uncle

The Heart and a Jellyfish’s Swimming Style

When a jellyfish moves through the ocean, it does so via a motion that somewhat resembles pumping. When it does so, it creates circular pockets of water that Caltech biophysicist John Dabiri calls “vortex rings,” which form much like a wake created by a boat on top of a body of water. When the heart pumps, blood nearby is similarly stirred into vortex rings, a phenomenon that Dabiri believes can be monitored to assess heart function.

Image: Cody Hanson