South Korean scientists, who have achieved outstanding growth in the medical technology field, have developed successfully a newtreatment for cancer that will be more efficientand less harmful than chemotherapy. A team at Chonnam National University has developed nanorobots that can detect and treat cancer cells in a way that avoids the harmful side effects of modern drugs.
The scientists have genetically modified salmonella bacteria that are drawn to tumors by chemicals secreted by cancer cells. The bacteria carry microscopic robots, about 3 micrometres in size, which automatically release capsules filled with drugs when the bacteria reach the tumour. “This is the world’s first nano-robot for active medical treatment,” according the South Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, which helped fund the research.
Modern chemotherapy treatments use chemicals that attack cells that divide rapidly, one of the main characteristics of cancer cells. This also means that cells that normally divide rapidly, such as in hair, bone marrow and the digestive tract, are also effected, which causes most of the side effects of chemotherapy.
By delivering drugs directly to the tumour, the nano-robot, which the team named Bacteriobot, attacks the tumour while leaving healthy cells alone, sparing the patient from the side effects of chemotherapy. Bacteriobot can only detect tumour-forming cancers, such as breast cancer and colorectal cancer, but the nanorobots will eventually be able to treat other cancers as well, the team says. Bacteriobot has already been patented in the United States, Japan and Europe.
Robots for MIS
South Korea is one of the world’s leading countries for treating cancer with medical robots. Recently, Yonsei Severance Hospital in Seoul conducted minimally invasive surgery (MIS) with the help of robot in the presence of eminent medical professionals from 28 countries, including the USA, Japan, Italy, China and Singapore. The international delegates could watch the surgery performed by Dr Na Goonho, professor of the department of Urology at Yonsei Medical College, to remove a tumour from a renal cancer patient by robotic arm.
According to the Korean Association of Robotic Surgeons (KAROS), the hospitals in Korea could perform over 8,000 such operations in 2013. High-tech cancer treatments at a comparatively lower expense have been attracting international patients to Korea, especially cancer patients. According to a report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which measured quality of care among OECD nations, published in 2013, survival rates of colorectal cancer and cervical cancer in South Korea were among the world’s highest, surpassing many developed countries like the USA and Japan.
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare in South Korea, revenue for overseas patients visiting Korean hospitals rose by 47% in 2012-13. Only 40 medical institutions in the world have proton therapy equipment, and Korea’s National Cancer Centre is one among them. Though the US is the unmatched leader in medical robotics, South Korea is trying to catch up fast with its advanced IT and biotechnology, creative engineers and highly skilled medical staff•