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These tiny robots could be disease-fighting machines inside the body

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Call it another case of science fiction becoming scientific fact. Researchers have long dreamed of developing tiny robots that could roam about inside our bodies, delivering drugs with unprecedented precision, and hunting down and destroying cancer cells.

We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close. Last month scientists from China’s National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNT) and Arizona State University said they had developed robots a few hundred nanometers across — there are 25 million nanometers in an inch — and when they injected them into the bloodstream of mice, the nanorobots could shrink tumors by blocking their blood supply.

The nanorobots were made from sheets of DNA rolled into tubes containing a blood-clotting drug. On the outside, the researchers placed a small DNA molecule that binds with a protein found only in tumors. When the bots reached tumors, this molecule attached to the protein, triggering the DNA tube to unroll and release the drug.

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Most cancer drugs typically have nasty side effects because they can’t distinguish between cancer cells and healthy ones. The researchers showed that the nanorobots only targeted the tumors and didn’t cause clotting elsewhere in the body. They say this offers a promising future of cancer treatments free of side effects.

Such a device is very different from the human-scale bots that build our cars and vacuum our floors. But Guangjun Nie, one of the NCNT professors who developed the nanorobots, points out that they are able to sense their environment, navigate, and carry out mechanical tasks just like large robots.

The researchers are working with a biotech firm to commercialize the cancer-fighting nanobots. And Nie says this is just a taste of what DNA nanorobots could do.

“What we call nanorobots are the next generation of nanomedicines because they give you much better control and can be made to work like a machine,” he says. “In the future we will demonstrate even more scenarios for our nanorobots from monitoring disease, to finding tissue damage, curing cancer and maybe even finding and destroying plaques in our blood vessels.”

Taking cues from sci-fi

The idea of tiny disease-fighting machines working inside the human body can be traced at least as far back as the 1966 release of the movie “Fantastic Voyage,” in which a submarine and its crew were shrunk down and injected into a scientist’s body to remove a dangerous blood clot.

 Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch are part of a team of scientists that are shrunk down and injected into a human body in “Fantastic Voyage” from 1966. Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

In real life, of course, it’s not so easy to shrink machines, much less humans. Computer chips, electric motors, and batteries are typically too bulky to operate in blood vessels or between cells.

But being able access hard-to-reach areas of our bodies could have profound implications for medicine, so scientists are scrambling to find ways to power and control inside-the-body bots.

In addition to boosting the effectiveness and lessening the side effects of powerful drugs, nanorobots loitering in our bloodstream could act as early warning systems for disease. And tiny wireless surgical tools could let doctors perform medical procedures without cutting people open.

Micro surgeons

Eric Diller, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto in Canada, is working on this last problem. He’s developing robots just under a millimeter across that are built from elastic polymers filled with magnetic particles that can be dragged through fluids and triggered to grasp objects.

These tiny bots are controlled by precise magnetic fields generated by an array of electromagnets. The robots could eventually be used to collect tissue biopsies or carry drug capsules inside the body, says Diller.

 Robots being developed at the University of Toronto resemble unfolded cubes, with four rectangular arms that fold up to grasp things. Jiachen Zhang and Eric Diller / University of Toronto

His lab has yet to test the devices in animals, but researchers at ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, have already tested a similar magnetically guided microbot in the eye of a rabbit, using it to puncture a blood vessel with its needle-like tip. The ultimate goal, Diller says, is to create a suite of wirelessly powered surgical tools.

“Instead of having an open wound site we would like to be able to inject surgical tools,” he says. “We could do non-invasive, not just minimally invasive, procedures with no external cuts and without the complications that come from surgery.”

Motorized medicine

Probably the most developed and versatile approach to microscopic medical robots uses so-called “nanomotors” and “micromotors.” These are tiny particles, tubes, or wires made from materials like gold, magnesium, and carbon. They either propel themselves using fuels found in the body — such as stomach acid or water — or are dragged or pushed around by magnetic fields or ultrasound waves.

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Researchers have shown that these devices can precisely navigate to disease sites and can even penetrate deep into diseased tissue to deliver drugs more efficiently. When combined with biosensors like enzymes or antibodies, they can create much more sensitive ways to detect chemical signals of disease, because their movement means they bump into other molecules more frequently.

By the same principle, combining them with nanosponges that absorb toxins could someday create tiny robots that efficiently mop up harmful substances in the body.

Dr. Joseph Wang, a professor of nanoengineering at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the pioneers of this field. Last August, his lab demonstrated that micromotors loaded with antibiotics and powered by stomach acid could treat stomach infections in mice more effectively than taking the drug by itself.

“We just dump the motors in the stomach and they just swim autonomously,” he said. “It’s like taking a pill and forgetting about it.”

Nature’s nanobots

Meanwhile, other researchers are looking for ways to harness and redirect the activities of nature’s own tiny machines.

In December, a group at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research in Germany loaded sperm cells with anti-cancer drugs and fitted them with tiny magnetic harnesses. The sperm tails provided propulsion but the harnesses let the researchers guide them using a magnetic field toward mini cervical cancer tumors that had been grown in a petri dish. They killed 87 percent of the tumors’ cells within three days.

And in 2016, a team from Polytechnique Montréal in Canada hijacked bacteria that naturally swim along magnetic field lines, loading them with cancer drugs and using artificial magnetic fields to steer them to tumors in mice.

Eventually, Diller says building in-the-body robots from scratch will give us much greater control over their functionality. But we’re still a long way from being able to mimic nature’s innovations, so for now, these bio-hybrid approaches are a smart idea.

“At this point in time there is a compelling argument for using these organisms that are already functional and trying to modify them to do what our goal is,” he says. “They have much more functionality than the devices we can build today.”

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Netherlands: Thief jailed for stealing van Gogh and Frans Hals paintings worth millions of pounds from museums | World News

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A man has been convicted of stealing a painting by Vincent van Gogh worth several million pounds from a museum in the Netherlands.

The 59-year-old was also found guilty of snatching a Frans Hals piece from another museum in the country, again worth millions of pounds, and neither of the works have been recovered.

Described as an “incorrigible and calculating criminal”, he was sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison.

The man, whose identity has been kept anonymous under Dutch privacy laws, was found guilty of taking Van Gogh’s “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884” from the Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam.

He later stole the 17th century Frans Hals’ “Two Laughing Boys” from the Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in Leerdam, 60km (35 miles) south of the Dutch capital.

The Central Netherlands Court said the Hans painting was valued at €16m (£13.7m), but did not give a value for Van Gogh’s painting.

Both were stolen by a man who broke into the museums at night and fled on a scooter driven by an accomplice.

The Vincent van Gogh painting was stolen from the Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam. Pic AP
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The Vincent van Gogh painting was stolen from the Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam. Pic AP

The defendant, who has a previous conviction for a similar heist, denied any involvement.

“The court doesn’t believe this,” the court said in a statement. “His DNA was found at both crime scenes, and the man can’t explain how that is possible.”

The paintings were described as “part of the national cultural heritage, they are important for present and future generations”.

“That is why and given the criminal record of the suspect who is, according to the court, an incorrigible and calculating criminal, the court considers the maximum sentence to be appropriate,” the court added.

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La Palma volcano: What caused it to explode and how long could the eruption last? | World News

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A volcano that erupted on the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canary Islands is continuing to explode and spew out lava five days after it erupted.

Unstoppable lava flows have destroyed nearly 400 buildings on the western side of the volcanic island of 85,000 people and the authorities have warned of new dangers including toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.

Where is the volcano in La Palma?

A map shows the location of the Cumbre Vieja eruption and the flow of lava
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A map shows the location of the Cumbre Vieja eruption and the flow of lava
LA PALMA Canary Islands  MAP
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A map of the volcanic activity on La Palma. Credit: Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System

The volcano erupted along the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge in La Palma, one of eight volcanic islands in Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago, which sit off the northwestern coast of Africa.

The Canary Islands are popular with European tourists and the nearby island of Tenerife has one of the world’s tallest volcanoes, Mount Teide.

La Palma island itself is made up of two main volcanic complexes: a large one to the north and a smaller one to the south, which erupted on Sunday. The island last saw an eruption in 1971.

How did scientists know the eruption was coming?

More on La Palma Volcano Eruption

Scientists had been monitoring a build-up of underground magma beneath La Palma for a week before the eruption and were able to warn of a possible eruption, allowing nearly 7,000 people to evacuate.

They had detected more than 20,000 earthquakes in an “earthquake swarm” which can indicate a coming eruption.

What caused the volcano to erupt?

Copernicus Sentinel-2 image shows the eruption of a volcano in the Cumbre Vieja national park, on the Canary Island of La Palma
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Copernicus Sentinel-2 image shows the eruption of the volcano in the Cumbre Vieja national park
Lava spews from the Cumbre Vieja volcano in La Palma, Spain
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Lava spews from the Cumbre Vieja volcano

Three days before the volcano erupted, the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute reported that 11 million cubic metres (388 million cubic feet) of molten rock had been pushed into the volcano.

Professor David Pyle, a volcanologist at the University of Oxford, told Sky News: “Magma is generated within Earth’s mantle and below La Palma that magma is probably being generated continuously at depths of 100km or so. Every now and then those magmas will collect and break through, pushing up into the shallow parts of the Earth’s crust.

“When the latest swarm of earthquakes started a week before the eruption began, scientists recognised they were happening at a shallower depth than they had seen in previous years.

“They were able to look at satellite images which showed deformation of the surface and they were very confident that from these they could recognise the movement of magma towards the surface.”

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Lava from the volcano is destroying and burying homes, leaving thousands devastated

A 4.2-magnitude earthquake was recorded before the eruption, which saw two fissures open up and bright red magma bubble up into the air.

How has the eruption developed?

Earthquakes have continued and a new fissure opened on Monday following a 3.8-magnitude quake. Scientists have warned that new lava vents and cracks could emerge, putting new areas at risk.

Lava covers more than 180 hectares on the island of La Palma and destroys 390 buildings
PIC:AP
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Lava erupts from the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge. Pic: AP

Prof Pyle said scientists will now be measuring the amount of gas escaping from the volcano, checking whether the composition of magma changes over time and measuring the quantity of material that is being expelled to see how quickly the volcano is erupting.

“With these they will be forming an expert judgement in terms of what the trajectory is looking like in terms of the eruption, whether it is waxing or waning,” he said.

“In this crisis they are deploying all the tools they can to try and work out what is changing during the eruption. And that will give them the clues in terms of whether or not to expect the activity to last for days, or weeks, or months.”

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Scientists say the volcanic eruption could continue until December

Officials in La Palma have recorded 1,130 tremors in the area over the past week as the volcano blasted molten lava into the air.

The explosions have propelled ash almost 15,000ft into the air, according to the Guardia Civil police force. Two rivers of lava have flowed slowly down the hillside, consuming houses, banana farms and infrastructure.

How long could the eruption last?

Residents look from a hill as the lava from a volcano eruption flows on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain
PIC:AP
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Residents look on from a hill as lava from the volcano flows. Pic: AP

Scientists are unclear about how long the eruption could last, with estimates ranging between weeks and even months.

The previous eruption in 1971 lasted for just over three weeks. The last eruption in the Canary Islands happened underwater off the coast of El Hierro island in 2011 and lasted for five months.

Professor Mike Burton, a volcanologist at the University of Manchester, told Sky News that while scientists were able to predict the eruption, knowing how long it could last was “the tricky bit”.

Lava from a volcano eruption flows in El Paso, on the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain, September 23, 2021.
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Lava has surrounded houses in El Paso

“It’s great that we can see when something like this is coming, but once it has started it is quite hard to be clear about how it is going to evolve.

“I think the best thing we can do is watch and look for signs of waxing and waning, increasing and decreasing activity.

“The last eruption went on for about three months, but every eruption is different. This one appears to have started with a higher lava eruption rate than the 1971 eruption, so already it seems to be more powerfully supplied.

“That might mean it goes on much longer, but you have to be cautious about making any deterministic predictions. We really need to wait and see what nature does.”

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Elon Musk and Grimes split up after three years together but ‘remain on great terms’ | Ents & Arts News

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Elon Musk and Grimes have split up after three years together, according to reports.

Musk, who is the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, confirmed to Page Six that he and the Canadian singer are semi-separate but on good terms.

The 50-year-old added that they will continue to co-parent their one-year-old son, X Æ A-Xii Musk.

Elon Musk and his newborn. Pic: @elonmusk/Twitter
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Elon Musk and Grimes welcomed their first child in May 2020. Pic: @elonmusk/Twitter

“We are semi-separated but still love each other, see each other frequently and are on great terms,” Musk told Page Six.

“It’s mostly that my work at SpaceX and Tesla requires me to be primarily in Texas or travelling overseas, and her work is primarily in LA. She’s staying with me now, and Baby X is in the adjacent room.”

The pair started dated in May 2018 and welcomed their first son two years later.

They were last seen together at the Met Gala on 13 September, when Grimes, 33, walked on the red carpet alone and Musk joined her inside.

Grimes joined Musk at a Met Gala after-party, which he was hosting, and the duo were seen leaving New York together the next day.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala - Met Gala - In America: A Lexicon of Fashion - Arrivals - New York City, U.S. - September 13, 2021. Grimes. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
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Grimes walked on the red carpet alone at the Met Gala on 13 September but was joined by Elon Musk inside

Musk was previously married to author Justine Wilson, with whom he has five sons – 17-year-old twins Griffin and Xavier, and triplets Damian, Saxon and Kai, aged 15.

He has also been married twice to Westworld actress Talulah Riley, and dated Amber Heard for a year.

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