Under the guidance of magnetic fields, tiny robots move through a patient's blood to the site of a tumour, then release thousands of drug-carrying bacteria to swarm cancerous cells.

Researchers at Ecole Polytechnique showed off the results of their research which promises to make cancer treatment much more specific.

The results of the work by Dr. Sylvain Martel, director of the Nanorobotics Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique, were published this month in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

After 15 years of research, Martel's team of scientists were able to get cancer-fighting drugs to locations that until now have been very difficult to reach. 

Dr. Te Vuong, Director of Radiation Oncology at Jewish General Hospital, is part of the team working on the research.

"This is a very specific bacteria which contains some molecules that allow Dr. Martel to guide them using a magnetic field. And they are the perfect size so they can go to very small areas and they can penetrate, under the guidance of a magnetic field in the tumour," said Dr. Vuong.

So far tests have only be performed on animal subjects, but if the system can be used in humans, it could change how cancer is treated.

"One of the reasons we say it's a perfect vector is they can be loaded with any drugs that we want," said Dr. Vuong.

The team likens in to the classic science fiction movie Fantastic Voyage.

In the film a team of researchers are shrunk to microscopic size, and then pilot a submarine throughout a human body.

Nothing is being shrunk here, but researchers are using magnetic fields to direct bacteria to specific locations.

Traditional drugs injected into the bloodstream often run into a wall -- certain parts of the body are too large for red blood cells.

But the bacteria used by the Montreal researchers is smaller, and responds to magnets.

Much like a magnet can be used to attract a piece of steel, the same properties can move bacteria around a living being, and have been used to move drugs into a rabbit's liver.

The team expects to conduct human trials within the next five years.