Nanotubes that pulse or "breathe" could pump out drugs, according to a report published in Science by researchers from South Korea, China and Japan. The nanotubes are stacks of 6 bent molecules that self-assemble into tubes in water. The nanotubes pulse like an artery in response to changes in temperature--the molecules slide together as they get warmer and slide apart as things cool down.
According to Myongsoo Lee of Seoul National University in South Korea, speaking to New Scientist: "Our tubule is the first example that undergoes expansion and contraction without changing its tubular structure."
When the researchers filled the tubes with buckyballs (tiny balls of carbon), the pulsing action shot the spheres out, suggesting that these could have potential as targeted drug delivery pumps.
"If you can close off one of the ends you would be able to pump fluid or have a controlled release of the content," Jan van Hest of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands told New Scientist. "Drug delivery would be a possibility." However, this is still very early-stage research, and as van Hest points out to New Scientist, the nanotubes' biocompatibility still needs to be investigated.