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Xu D, Hu J, Pan X, Sánchez S, Yan X, Ma X, (2021). Enzyme-Powered Liquid Metal Nanobots Endowed with Multiple Biomedical Functions Acs Nano 15, 11543-11554

Catalytically powered micro/nanobots (MNBs) can perform active movement by harnessing energy from in situ chemical reactions and show tremendous potential in biomedical applications. However, the development of imageable MNBs that are driven by bioavailable fuels and possess multiple therapeutic functions remains challenging. To resolve such issues, we herein propose enzyme (urease) powered liquid metal (LM) nanobots that are naturally of multiple therapeutic functions and imaging signals. The main body of the nanobot is composed of a biocompatible LM nanoparticle encapsulated by polydopamine (PDA). Urease enzyme needed for the powering and desired drug molecules, e.g., cefixime trihydrate antibiotic, are grafted on external surfaces of the PDA shell. Such a chemical composition endows the nanobots with dual-mode ultrasonic (US) and photoacoustic (PA) imaging signals and favorable photothermal effect. These LM nanobots exhibit positive chemotaxis and therefore can be collectively guided along a concentration gradient of urea for targeted transportation. When exposed to NIR light, the LM nanobots would deform and complete the function change from active drug carriers to photothermal reagents, to achieve synergetic antibacterial treatment by both photothermal and chemotherapeutic effects. The US and PA properties of the LM nanoparticle can be used to not only track and monitor the active movement of the nanobots in a microfluidic vessel model but also visualize their dynamics in the bladder of a living mouse in vivo. To conclude, the LM nanobots demonstrated herein represent a proof-of-concept therapeutic nanosystem with multiple biomedical functionalities, providing a feasible tool for preclinical studies and clinical trials of MNB-based imaging-guided therapy.

Keywords: cell, chemo-photothermal therapy, chemotaxis, image tracking, liquid metal nanobots, nanomotors, tracking, Chemo-photothermal therapy, Chemotaxis, Image tracking, Liquid metal nanobots, Nanomotors


Vilela D, Blanco-Cabra N, Eguskiza A, Hortelao AC, Torrents E, Sanchez S, (2021). Drug-Free Enzyme-Based Bactericidal Nanomotors against Pathogenic Bacteria Acs Applied Materials & Interfaces 13, 14964-14973

The low efficacy of current conventional treatments for bacterial infections increases mortality rates worldwide. To alleviate this global health problem, we propose drug-free enzyme-based nanomotors for the treatment of bacterial urinary-tract infections. We develop nanomotors consisting of mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNPs) that were functionalized with either urease (U-MSNPs), lysozyme (L-MSNPs), or urease and lysozyme (M-MSNPs), and use them against nonpathogenic planktonic Escherichia coli. U-MSNPs exhibited the highest bactericidal activity due to biocatalysis of urea into NaHCO3 and NH3, which also propels U-MSNPs. In addition, U-MSNPs in concentrations above 200 μg/mL were capable of successfully reducing 60% of the biofilm biomass of a uropathogenic E. coli strain. This study thus provides a proof-of-concept, demonstrating that enzyme-based nanomotors are capable of fighting infectious diseases. This approach could potentially be extended to other kinds of diseases by selecting appropriate biomolecules.

Keywords: biofilms, carbonate, e. coli, enzymatic nanomotors, infections, lysozyme, micromotors, nanomachines, proteins, self-propulsion, Biofilms, E. coli, Eliminate escherichia-coli, Enzymatic nanomotors, Infections, Nanomachines, Self-propulsion


Mestre R, Patiño T, Sánchez S, (2021). Biohybrid robotics: From the nanoscale to the macroscale Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews-Nanomedicine and Nanobiotechnology 13

© 2021 Wiley Periodicals LLC. Biohybrid robotics is a field in which biological entities are combined with artificial materials in order to obtain improved performance or features that are difficult to mimic with hand-made materials. Three main level of integration can be envisioned depending on the complexity of the biological entity, ranging from the nanoscale to the macroscale. At the nanoscale, enzymes that catalyze biocompatible reactions can be used as power sources for self-propelled nanoparticles of different geometries and compositions, obtaining rather interesting active matter systems that acquire importance in the biomedical field as drug delivery systems. At the microscale, single enzymes are substituted by complete cells, such as bacteria or spermatozoa, whose self-propelling capabilities can be used to transport cargo and can also be used as drug delivery systems, for in vitro fertilization practices or for biofilm removal. Finally, at the macroscale, the combinations of millions of cells forming tissues can be used to power biorobotic devices or bioactuators by using muscle cells. Both cardiac and skeletal muscle tissue have been part of remarkable examples of untethered biorobots that can crawl or swim due to the contractions of the tissue and current developments aim at the integration of several types of tissue to obtain more realistic biomimetic devices, which could lead to the next generation of hybrid robotics. Tethered bioactuators, however, result in excellent candidates for tissue models for drug screening purposes or the study of muscle myopathies due to their three-dimensional architecture. This article is categorized under: Therapeutic Approaches and Drug Discovery > Emerging Technologies Nanotechnology Approaches to Biology > Nanoscale Systems in Biology.

Keywords: bacteria-bots, based biorobots, biorobots, bots, enzymatic nanomotors, hybrid robotics, muscle‐, Bacteria‐, Bacteria-bots, Biorobots, Enzymatic nanomotors, Hybrid robotics, Muscle-based biorobots


Mestre R, Cadefau N, Hortelão AC, Grzelak J, Gich M, Roig A, Sánchez S, (2021). Nanorods Based on Mesoporous Silica Containing Iron Oxide Nanoparticles as Catalytic Nanomotors: Study of Motion Dynamics Chemnanomat 7, 134-140

© 2020 Wiley-VCH GmbH Self-propelled particles and, in particular, those based on mesoporous silica, have raised considerable interest due to their potential applications in the environmental and biomedical fields thanks to their biocompatibility, tunable surface chemistry and large porosity. Although spherical particles have been widely used to fabricate nano- and micromotors, not much attention has been paid to other geometries, such as nanorods. Here, we report the fabrication of self-propelled mesoporous silica nanorods (MSNRs) that move by the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide by a sputtered Pt layer, Fe2O3 nanoparticles grown within the mesopores, or the synergistic combination of both. We show that motion can occur in two distinct sub-populations characterized by two different motion dynamics, namely enhanced diffusion or directional propulsion, especially when both catalysts are used. These results open up the possibility of using MSNRs as chassis for the fabrication of self-propelled particles for the environmental or biomedical fields.

Keywords: Mesoporous silica, Nanomotors, Nanorods, Porous materials, Self-propulsion


Mestre, R., Cadefau, N., Hortelão, A. C., Grzelak, J., Gich, M., Roig, A., Sánchez, S., (2020). Nanorods based on mesoporous silica containing iron oxide nanoparticles as catalytic nanomotors: Study of motion dynamics ChemNanoMat 7, (2), 134-140

Self-propelled particles and, in particular, those based on mesoporous silica, have raised considerable interest due to their potential applications in the environmental and biomedical fields thanks to their biocompatibility, tunable surface chemistry and large porosity. Although spherical particles have been widely used to fabricate nano- and micromotors, not much attention has been paid to other geometries, such as nanorods. Here, we report the fabrication of self-propelled mesoporous silica nanorods (MSNRs) that move by the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide by a sputtered Pt layer, Fe2O3 nanoparticles grown within the mesopores, or the synergistic combination of both. We show that motion can occur in two distinct sub-populations characterized by two different motion dynamics, namely enhanced diffusion or directional propulsion, especially when both catalysts are used. These results open up the possibility of using MSNRs as chassis for the fabrication of self-propelled particles for the environmental or biomedical fields

Keywords: Mesoporous silica, Nanomotors, Nanorods, Porous materials, Self-propulsion


Xu, D., Wang, Y., Liang, C., You, Y., Sanchez, S., Ma, X., (2020). Self-propelled micro/nanomotors for on-demand biomedical cargo transportation Small 16, (27), 1902464

Micro/nanomotors (MNMs) are miniaturized machines that can perform assigned tasks at the micro/nanoscale. Over the past decade, significant progress has been made in the design, preparation, and applications of MNMs that are powered by converting different sources of energy into mechanical force, to realize active movement and fulfill on-demand tasks. MNMs can be navigated to desired locations with precise controllability based on different guidance mechanisms. A considerable research effort has gone into demonstrating that MNMs possess the potential of biomedical cargo loading, transportation, and targeted release to achieve therapeutic functions. Herein, the recent advances of self-propelled MNMs for on-demand biomedical cargo transportation, including their self-propulsion mechanisms, guidance strategies, as well as proof-of-concept studies for biological applications are presented. In addition, some of the major challenges and possible opportunities of MNMs are identified for future biomedical applications in the hope that it may inspire future research.

Keywords: Biomedical applications, Cargo transportation, Guidance strategies, Micro/nanomotors, Self-propulsion


Llopis-Lorente, A., García-Fernández, A., Murillo-Cremaes, N., Hortelão, A. C., Patinño, T., Villalonga, R., Sancenón, F., Martínez-Máñer, R., Sánchez, S., (2019). Enzyme-powered gated mesoporous silica nanomotors for on-command intracellular payload delivery ACS Nano 13, (10), 12171-12183

The introduction of stimuli-responsive cargo release capabilities on self-propelled micro- and nanomotors holds enormous potential in a number of applications in the biomedical field. Herein, we report the preparation of mesoporous silica nanoparticles gated with pH-responsive supramolecular nanovalves and equipped with urease enzymes which act as chemical engines to power the nanomotors. The nanoparticles are loaded with different cargo molecules ([Ru(bpy)3]Cl2 (bpy = 2,2′-bipyridine) or doxorubicin), grafted with benzimidazole groups on the outer surface, and capped by the formation of inclusion complexes between benzimidazole and cyclodextrin-modified urease. The nanomotor exhibits enhanced Brownian motion in the presence of urea. Moreover, no cargo is released at neutral pH, even in the presence of the biofuel urea, due to the blockage of the pores by the bulky benzimidazole:cyclodextrin-urease caps. Cargo delivery is only triggered on-command at acidic pH due to the protonation of benzimidazole groups, the dethreading of the supramolecular nanovalves, and the subsequent uncapping of the nanoparticles. Studies with HeLa cells indicate that the presence of biofuel urea enhances nanoparticle internalization and both [Ru(bpy)3]Cl2 or doxorubicin intracellular release due to the acidity of lysosomal compartments. Gated enzyme-powered nanomotors shown here display some of the requirements for ideal drug delivery carriers such as the capacity to self-propel and the ability to “sense” the environment and deliver the payload on demand in response to predefined stimuli.

Keywords: Controlled release, Drug delivery, Enzymatic catalysis, Gatekeepers, Nanocarriers, Nanomotors, Stimuli-responsive nanomaterials


Hortelão, Ana C., Carrascosa, Rafael, Murillo-Cremaes, Nerea, Patiño, Tania, Sánchez, Samuel, (2019). Targeting 3D bladder cancer spheroids with urease-powered nanomotors ACS Nano 13, (1), 429-439

Cancer is one of the main causes of death around the world, lacking efficient clinical treatments that generally present severe side effects. In recent years, various nanosystems have been explored to specifically target tumor tissues, enhancing the efficacy of cancer treatment and minimizing the side effects. In particular, bladder cancer is the ninth most common cancer worldwide and presents a high survival rate but serious recurrence levels, demanding an improvement in the existent therapies. Here, we present urease-powered nanomotors based on mesoporous silica nanoparticles that contain both polyethylene glycol and anti-FGFR3 antibody on their outer surface to target bladder cancer cells in the form of 3D spheroids. The autonomous motion is promoted by urea, which acts as fuel and is inherently present at high concentrations in the bladder. Antibody-modified nanomotors were able to swim in both simulated and real urine, showing a substrate-dependent enhanced diffusion. The internalization efficiency of the antibody-modified nanomotors into the spheroids in the presence of urea was significantly higher compared with antibody-modified passive particles or bare nanomotors. Furthermore, targeted nanomotors resulted in a higher suppression of spheroid proliferation compared with bare nanomotors, which could arise from the local ammonia production and the therapeutic effect of anti-FGFR3. These results hold significant potential for the development of improved targeted cancer therapy and diagnostics using biocompatible nanomotors.

Keywords: 3D cell culture, Bladder cancer, Enzymatic catalysis, Nanomachines, Nanomotors, Self-propulsion, Targeting


Wang, Lei, Hortelão, Ana C., Huang, Xin, Sánchez, Samuel, (2019). Lipase-powered mesoporous silica nanomotors for triglyceride degradation Angewandte Chemie International Edition 58, (24), 7992-7996

We report lipase-based nanomotors that are capable of enhanced Brownian motion over long periods of time in triglyceride solution and of degrading triglyceride droplets that mimic “blood lipids”. We achieved about 40 min of enhanced diffusion of lipase-modified mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNPs) through a biocatalytic reaction between lipase and its corresponding water-soluble oil substrate (triacetin) as fuel, which resulted in an enhanced diffusion coefficient (ca. 50 % increase) at low triacetin concentration (<10 mm). Lipase not only serves as the power engine but also as a highly efficient cleaner for the triglyceride droplets (e.g., tributyrin) in PBS solution, which could yield potential biomedical applications, for example, for dealing with diseases related to the accumulation of triglycerides, or for environmental remediation, for example, for the degradation of oil spills.

Keywords: Enzyme nanomotors, Lipase, Micromotors, Oil removal, Self-propulsion


Patiño, Tania, Porchetta, Alessandro, Jannasch, Anita, Lladó, Anna, Stumpp, Tom, Schäffer, Erik, Ricci, Francesco, Sánchez, Samuel, (2019). Self-sensing enzyme-powered micromotors equipped with pH-responsive DNA nanoswitches Nano Letters 19, (6), 3440-3447

Biocatalytic micro- and nanomotors have emerged as a new class of active matter self-propelled through enzymatic reactions. The incorporation of functional nanotools could enable the rational design of multifunctional micromotors for simultaneous real-time monitoring of their environment and activity. Herein, we report the combination of DNA nanotechnology and urease-powered micromotors as multifunctional tools able to swim, simultaneously sense the pH of their surrounding environment, and monitor their intrinsic activity. With this purpose, a FRET-labeled triplex DNA nanoswitch for pH sensing was immobilized onto the surface of mesoporous silica-based micromotors. During self-propulsion, urea decomposition and the subsequent release of ammonia led to a fast pH increase, which was detected by real-time monitoring of the FRET efficiency through confocal laser scanning microscopy at different time points (i.e., 30 s, 2 and 10 min). Furthermore, the analysis of speed, enzymatic activity, and propulsive force displayed a similar exponential decay, matching the trend observed for the FRET efficiency. These results illustrate the potential of using specific DNA nanoswitches not only for sensing the micromotors’ surrounding microenvironment but also as an indicator of the micromotor activity status, which may aid to the understanding of their performance in different media and in different applications.

Keywords: Micromotors, DNA-nanoswitch, pH detection, Self-propulsion, Nanosensors, Nanomotors


Hortelão, A. C., Patiño, T., Perez-Jiménez, A., Blanco, A., Sánchez, S., (2018). Enzyme-powered nanobots enhance anticancer drug delivery Advanced Functional Materials 28, 1705086

The use of enzyme catalysis to power micro- and nanomotors exploiting biocompatible fuels has opened new ventures for biomedical applications such as the active transport and delivery of specific drugs to the site of interest. Here, urease-powered nanomotors (nanobots) for doxorubicin (Dox) anticancer drug loading, release, and efficient delivery to cells are presented. These mesoporous silica-based core-shell nanobots are able to self-propel in ionic media, as confirmed by optical tracking and dynamic light scattering analysis. A four-fold increase in drug release is achieved by nanobots after 6 h compared to their passive counterparts. Furthermore, the use of Dox-loaded nanobots presents an enhanced anticancer efficiency toward HeLa cells, which arises from a synergistic effect of the enhanced drug release and the ammonia produced at high concentrations of urea substrate. A higher content of Dox inside HeLa cells is detected after 1, 4, 6, and 24 h incubation with active nanobots compared to passive Dox-loaded nanoparticles. The improvement in drug delivery efficiency achieved by enzyme-powered nanobots may hold potential toward their use in future biomedical applications such as the substrate-triggered release of drugs in target locations.

Keywords: Drug delivery, Enzymatic catalysis, Nanobots, Nanomachines, Nanomotors


Wang, Xu, Sridhar, Varun, Guo, Surong, Talebi, Nahid, Miguel-López, Albert, Hahn, Kersten, van Aken, Peter A., Sánchez, Samuel, (2018). Fuel-free nanocap-like motors actuated under visible light Advanced Functional Materials 28, (25), 1705862

The motion of nanomotors triggered by light sources will provide new alternative routes to power nanoarchitectures without the need of chemical fuels. However, most light-driven nanomotors are triggered by UV-light, near infrared reflection, or laser sources. It is demonstrated that nanocap shaped Au/TiO2 nanomotors (175 nm in diameter) display increased Brownian motion in the presence of broad spectrum visible light. The motion results from the surface plasmon resonance effect leading to self-electrophoresis between the Au and TiO2 layers, a mechanism called plasmonic photocatalytic effect in the field of photocatalysis. This mechanism is experimentally characterized by electron energy loss spectroscopy, energy-filtered transmission electron microscopy, and optical video tracking. This mechanism is also studied in a more theoretical manner using numerical finite-difference time-domain simulations. The ability to power nanomaterials with visible light may result in entirely new applications for externally powered micro/nanomotors.

Keywords: Enhanced Brownian motion, Fuel-free nanomotors, Nanomachines, Self-electrophoresis, Visible light


Parmar, J., Villa, K., Vilela, D., Sánchez, S., (2017). Platinum-free cobalt ferrite based micromotors for antibiotic removal Applied Materials Today 9, 605-611

Self-propelled micromotors have previously shown to enhance pollutant removal compared to non-motile nano-micro particles. However, these systems are expensive, difficult to scale-up and require surfactant for efficient work. Efficient and inexpensive micromotors are desirable for their practical applications in water treatment technologies. We describe cobalt-ferrite based micromotors (CFO micromotors) fabricated by a facile and scalable synthesis, that produce hydroxyl radicals via Fenton-like reaction and take advantage of oxygen gas generated during this reaction for self-propulsion. Once the reaction is complete, the CFO micromotors can be easily separated and collected due to their magnetic nature. The CFO micromotors are demonstrated for highly efficient advanced oxidative removal of tetracycline antibiotic from the water. Furthermore, the effects of different concentrations of micromotors and hydrogen peroxide on the antibiotic degradation were studied, as well as the generation of the highly reactive hydroxyl radicals responsible for the oxidation reaction.

Keywords: Degradation, Fenton reaction, Microbots, Nanomotors, Self-propelled Micromotors, Water treatment


Ma, Xing, Sánchez, Samuel, (2017). Self-propelling micro-nanorobots: challenges and future perspectives in nanomedicine Nanomedicine 12, (12), 1363-1367

Ma, X., Jannasch, A., Albrecht, U. R., Hahn, K., Miguel-López, A., Schäffer, E., Sánchez, S., (2015). Enzyme-powered hollow mesoporous Janus nanomotors Nano Letters 15, (10), 7043-7050

The development of synthetic nanomotors for technological applications in particular for life science and nanomedicine is a key focus of current basic research. However, it has been challenging to make active nanosystems based on biocompatible materials consuming nontoxic fuels for providing self-propulsion. Here, we fabricate self-propelled Janus nanomotors based on hollow mesoporous silica nanoparticles (HMSNPs), which are powered by biocatalytic reactions of three different enzymes: catalase, urease, and glucose oxidase (GOx). The active motion is characterized by a mean-square displacement (MSD) analysis of optical video recordings and confirmed by dynamic light scattering (DLS) measurements. We found that the apparent diffusion coefficient was enhanced by up to 83%. In addition, using optical tweezers, we directly measured a holding force of 64 ± 16 fN, which was necessary to counteract the effective self-propulsion force generated by a single nanomotor. The successful demonstration of biocompatible enzyme-powered active nanomotors using biologically benign fuels has a great potential for future biomedical applications.

Keywords: Enzyme, Hollow mesoporous silica nanoparticles, Hybrid motors, Janus particles, Nanomotors, Optical tweezers


Sánchez, S., Soler, L., Katuri, J., (2015). Chemically powered micro- and nanomotors Angewandte Chemie - International Edition 54, (4), 1414-1444

Chemically powered micro- and nanomotors are small devices that are self-propelled by catalytic reactions in fluids. Taking inspiration from biomotors, scientists are aiming to find the best architecture for self-propulsion, understand the mechanisms of motion, and develop accurate control over the motion. Remotely guided nanomotors can transport cargo to desired targets, drill into biomaterials, sense their environment, mix or pump fluids, and clean polluted water. This Review summarizes the major advances in the growing field of catalytic nanomotors, which started ten years ago.

Keywords: Catalysis, Micromotors, Nanomotors, Robots, Self-propulsion