Illustration of microrobots entering the lungs to treat pneumonia. (Credit: Wang lab/UC San Diego)

Nanoengineers have developed microscopic robots that can swim around in the lungs and deliver medication, and it cab be used to clear up life-threatening cases of bacterial pneumonia. In mice, the microrobots safely eliminated pneumonia-causing bacteria in the lungs and resulted in 100 percent survival. By contrast, untreated mice all died within three days after infection.

The microrobots are made of algae cells whose surfaces are speckled with antibiotic-filled nanoparticles. The algae provide movement, which allows the microrobots to swim around and deliver antibiotics directly to more bacteria in the lungs. The nanoparticles containing the antibiotics are made of tiny biodegradable polymer spheres that are coated with the cell membranes of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell.

The cell membranes absorb and neutralize inflammatory molecules produced by bacteria and the body’s immune system. This gives the microrobots the ability to reduce harmful inflammation, which in turn makes them more effective at fighting lung infection.

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