Brain-bender alert! For the first time ever, scientists have managed to insert nanomotors into living cells. Once inside, the gold, rocket-shaped motors were propelled with ultrasonic waves and steered with magnets. Because we now live in a scene from Fantastic Voyage.

It's as crazy as it sounds. The team of chemists and engineers from Penn State University developed the nanomotors after experimenting with similar devices in nonliving cells. The key to making them work in living cells was to power them with ultrasonic waves instead of toxic fuels. Once inserted into the cell, the nanomotors can move around freely, stirring up the cell's contents without killing it. They can also penetrate a cell's membrane, to invade or escape.

Once you have motors inside a cell, there's all kinds of stuff you can do. "As these nanomotors move around and bump into structures inside the cells, the live cells show internal mechanical responses that no one has seen before," Penn State professor Tom Mallouk said in a statement. "We might be able to use nanomotors to treat cancer and other diseases by mechanically manipulating cells from the inside. Nanomotors could perform intracellular surgery and deliver drugs noninvasively to living tissues." Mallouk added, "One dream application of ours is Fantastic Voyage-style medicine, where nanomotors would cruise around inside the body, communicating with each other and performing various kinds of diagnoses and therapy."

This research is still in the early stages, and the scientists have't stated a specific, immediate use case at the moment. In other words, they just did it to see what would happen. Turns out borrowing ideas from science fiction is all the rage these days. [PhysOrg]