No, it’s not a scene from a 1980s David Cronenberg horror/sci-fi movie: researchers really have managed to use human brain waves to remotely control drug-releasing nanobots inside a living cockroach.
The work was carried out by Israeli researchers and published under the title “Thought-Controlled Nanoscale Robots in a Living Host,” in a recent issue of the academic journal PLoS ONE.
“On a high level, what we achieved is putting nanorobots inside a living host, a cockroach in this particular setup,” lead author Shachar Arnon, a former computer science graduate student at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, told Digital Trends. “We were then able to activate them using our brain, and used that interface to make them release a drug, controlled entirely by our thoughts.”
The nanoscale robots were created by folding DNA, using a method devised by Dr. Ido Bachelet, who also worked on the project. These nanobots open up when heated, releasing a glowing chemical in this study. They were placed into metal coils hooked up to a generator, which produced heat, and were injected into tropical locusts — which were reportedly unharmed by the experiment.
When the human subjects wore electroencephalogram (EEG) helmets to record the electrical activity from their brains, the researchers were able to use machine learning technology to work out when their brains were producing a certain amount of activity. When brain activity hit a desired threshold, the nanoscale robots then released their cargo.
According to Arnon, it’s the first “proof of concept” step of the dream of one day using thoughts to control nanorobot-directed drugs as a delivery method within a person. It may be a while, though, before this can be used for medical treatment on people.
“Using EEG technology, I think one day this is going to be something which could be very reliable for medical use — as a way of controlling drug release inside a person’s body using a nanorobot,” he said. “It makes real sense. From something that would have been considered science-fiction just a few years ago, this is now something that is potentially very practical.”