Learning from Insect Swarms: Smart Cancer Targeting

swarms.jpgResearch published in Nature Materials this month takes lessons from cooperation in nature, including that observed in insect swarms, to create better targeting methods for cancer therapeutics 1. “Smart” anticancer drug systems can use mechanisms similar to swarm intelligence to locate sites of disease in the human body. Swarm intelligence arises when swarm behavior, for example bees flying and working together to locate sources of food, is used by the group “to solve a problem collectively, in a way that the individuals cannot” 2. Insect swarms indeed often come up with solutions to a common task or problem that are “better than those produced through the most advanced mathematics” 2. When researchers like Geoffrey von Maltzahn at MIT take lessons from swarm behavior and other examples of cooperation in nature (Figure 1), the results are engineered systems that have the potential to revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of various cancers. Group or “swarm” problem-solving can handle the task of locating small collections of cancer cells inside a human body containing more than 100 trillion non-cancerous cells!


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Wang Y, Brown P, & Xia Y (2011). Nanomedicine: Swarming towards the target. Nature materials, 10 (7), 482-3 PMID: 21685899