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The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has announced that a group of researchers have developed nanobots that can help in root canal treatments.

The researchers from IISc and Theranautilus, an IISc-incubated startup, have published a study in Advanced Healthcare Materials that shows nano-sized robots can be controlled using a magnetic field to kill bacteria located deep inside microscopic canals in the teeth, called dentinal tubules.

This in turn will improve the success of root canal treatments.

Root canal treatments are routinely performed to treat tooth infections. The procedure involves removing the pulp, the infected soft tissue inside the tooth, and cleaning it with antibiotics or chemicals to kill the bacteria.

However, the treatment sometimes fails to completely flush out bacteria, such as the antibiotic-resistant Enterococcus faecalis bacteria, in dentinal tubules.

IISc Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE) research associate and Theranautilus co-founder Shanmukh Srinivas said: “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.”

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To address the issue, researchers designed helical nanobots.

Made of silicon dioxide with an iron coating, these nanobots can be used to create a low-intensity magnetic field remotely.

The researchers tested the nanobots in extracted tooth samples and were able to control the movement by adjusting the frequency of the magnetic field. This manipulation could generate heat and kill nearby bacteria.

Srinivas added: “We have also established that we can retrieve them […] we can pull them back out of the patient’s teeth.”

The researchers have already tested the safety and efficacy of the nanobots in mice models.

Currently, they are developing a new device that can fit inside the mouth and will enable the dentist to perform the whole procedure during root canal treatment.

CeNSE professor Ambarish Ghosh added: “We are very close to deploying this technology in a clinical setting, which was considered futuristic even three years ago.”

Last year, IISc announced the development of a diagnostic test for sickle-cell disease.