Published: 16th May 2022
IISc Bengaluru scientists develop helical nanobots that can deep clean teeth, publish study
In the study published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, the researchers designed helical nanobots made of silicon dioxide coated with iron
Nano-sized robots controlled using a magnetic field can help kill bacteria deep inside the teeth and increase the success of root canal treatments, found a study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru. Root canal treatments are frequently carried out to treat tooth infections in millions of patients. The procedure involves removing the infected soft tissue inside the tooth, called the pulp, and flushing the tooth with antibiotics or chemicals to kill the bacteria that cause the infection.
However, often the treatment is unsuccessful in completely removing all the bacteria — especially antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as Enterococcus faecalis — which remain hidden inside microscopic canals in the tooth called dentinal tubules. "The dentinal tubules are very small and bacteria reside deep in the tissue. Current techniques are not efficient enough to go all the way inside and kill the bacteria," said Shanmukh Srinivas, Research Associate at the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE), and co-founder of IISc-incubated start-up, Theranautilus, according to a report by PTI.
In the study published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, the researchers designed helical nanobots made of silicon dioxide coated with iron, which can be controlled using a device that generates a low intensity magnetic field. These nanobots were then injected into extracted tooth samples and their movement was tracked using a microscope. By tweaking the frequency of the magnetic field, the researchers were able to make the nanobots move at will and penetrate deep inside the dentinal tubules.
"We have also established that we can retrieve them, we can pull them back out of the patient's teeth,'' said Srinivas. "Crucially, the team was able to manipulate the magnetic field to make the surface of the nanobots generate heat, which can kill the bacteria nearby. No other technology in the market can do this right now," said Debayan Dasgupta, Research Associate at CeNSE, and another co-founder of Theranautilus.
Earlier, scientists used ultrasound or laser pulses to create shockwaves in the fluid used to flush out bacteria and tissue debris, in order to improve the efficiency of root canal treatment. But these pulses can only penetrate up to a distance of 800 micrometres and their energy dissipates fast. The nanobots, on the other hand, were able to penetrate much further — up to 2,000 micrometers, found the study.
Using heat to kill the bacteria also provides a safer alternative to harsh chemicals or antibiotics, the researchers said, as per the PTI report. They tested the dental nanobots in mice models and found them to be safe and effective. The researchers are also working on developing a new kind of medical device that can easily fit inside the mouth and permit the dentist to inject and manipulate the nanobots inside the teeth during root canal treatment.
"We are very close to deploying this technology in a clinical setting, which was considered futuristic even three years ago. It is a joy to see how a simple scientific curiosity is shaping into a medical intervention that can impact millions of people in India alone," added Ambarish Ghosh, Professor at CeNSE.