'Fantastic Voyage' medical mini-submarine

Imagine this about a million times smaller, and without a stethoscope
Imagine this about a million times smaller, and without a stethoscope

Scientists at Tel Aviv University claim to be just three years away from being to inject nanotechnology medical 'submarines' into the human body to treat a number of diseases and conditions.

"Our lab is creating biological nano-machines," admits Dr Dan Peer. "These machines can target specific cells. In fact, we can target any protein that might be causing disease or disorder in the human body. This new invention treats the source, not the symptoms."

Unlike the CIA submarine in the 1966 sci-fi movie 'Fantastic Voyage', Dr Peer's subs won't have a miniaturised human crew but will be made from natural materials and carry a payload of the latest RNAi cancer-busting drugs.

Of mice and men

Dr Peer has already tested his submarines in mice suffering from ulcerative colitis, and he is confident they will work in humans too, targeting overactive immune system cells in the gut of people with Crohn's disease, or delivering drugs to specific cancer cells, while leaving the surrounding healthy cells intact.

"We have tapped into the same ancient system the human body uses to protect itself from viruses," says Dr. Peer, "And the beauty of it is, the basic material of our nano-carriers is natural."

The Tel Aviv University team plans to launch its medical submarines, following FDA regulations, within three to five years. It's immediate focus will be on blood, pancreatic, breast and brain cancers.

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.