Can Drones Help in the Fight against Cancer?

What if I told you that drones are helping to cure cancer? Okay, admittedly these aren't drones of the aerial kind, and they certainly won't have been under your Christmas tree this year or sending HD footage to your iPad. But something is happening in the world of medicine, and constantly advancing technology has paved the way for small, ecological drones to change the way we treat diseases such as cancer.

Dr. Wilfred Ngwa, a medical physicist in radiation oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, is applying drone technology to cancer treatment. Ngwa’s award-winning team has developed a powerful new technology called TiDTaC (Tiny Drones to Target Cancer) designed to more effectively destroy cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body with little collateral damage or side effects. The technology combines microscopic nano-particles with medicine, and is all packed into a tiny drone the size of a grain of rice.

But that’s not all. Ngwa’s tiny drone project manages to combine radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and microscopic nanotechnology. In an interview with Dunia magazine, Dr Ngwa explained how, “once in place, the TiDTaC directly delivers the microscopic particles and medicine to enhance local tumour cell death during radiotherapy and act as a beacon to call in the patient’s white blood cells. The white blood cells are then trained to kill cancer cells and can patrol the entire body, fighting cancer that has spread with great effectiveness.”

In current radiology treatment small biological implants can be used to track tumours, but Dr Ngwa is planning on taking these implants to another level. TiDTaC technology is set to make these tiny implants a whole lot smarter, so that they are effectively programmable drones, capable of carrying medicine to specific parts of the body and amplifying treatments.

Ngwa after winning the BRIght Futures Award | Lightchaser Photography and Consulting Llc image by j. kiely jr. © 2015 photograph

Ngwa after winning the BRIght Futures Award | Lightchaser Photography and Consulting Llc image by j. kiely jr. © 2015 photograph

There’s no carbon fibre or aluminium to be found here; these drones are made of FDA-approved, biodegradable polymers. Once they've been implanted into a patient and have done their job, they biodegrade. 

In testing results show that Dr Ngwa’s work could also help prevent cancer from ever coming back in a patient. Having just won Harvard’s prestigious 2015 BWH BRIght Futures Prize, the TiDTaC project is set for human trials later this year.