Nearly a hundred thousand new cases of gynaecological cancers are expected in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society. Researchers in Germany have turned to sperm for a solution.
A team of researchers from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences in Germany has created a unique drug delivery system designed specifically for diseases of the female reproductive tract such as gynaecological cancer, endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory diseases.
Sperm are evolutionarily programmed to travel through the reproductive system and now scientists are using this to their advantage. They’re testing bionic bovine sperm to deliver cancer-treating drugs directly to tumors.
So, how does this method work? Researchers soak the sperm in the active ingredient, Doxorubicin, which is a type of chemotherapy drug. They then get dressed up in a 3D-printed mechanical harness – a self-tightening micro-machined structure that attaches to the head of the sperm.
The harness is coated in iron, which allows the sperm to be steered by an external magnetic field. The sperm provides the propulsive power while a doctor can direct it to the tumor.
The harness has a quick release mechanism. When the device hits the surface, the force of the collision causes the harness to release its grip on the sperm which then swim away freely.
The scientists are currently testing their method using bull sperm, which is more or less the same size of human sperm.
In their findings the team found that the harness significantly reduces the sperm’s speed, but it can still move and enter the cancer cells effectively.
Their work, however does raise important questions like what happens to the mechanical harness once the treatment has been delivered and how will the body react to the device.
The next question is an ethical one – who’s sperm will be used and what’s the possibility of pregnancy. If these questions can be satisfactorily answered, the technique could have significant potential.