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DNA Nanorobots Are Developed to Fight Cancer Cells in Human Trial

DNA nanorobot

Image credit: Cell-targeting DNA nano-robots bearing antibody-fragment payloads, from S.M. Douglas et al. 2012 Science / Campbell Strong, Shawn Douglas, & Gaël McGill

It is hoped by scientists that nanobots built completely of DNA would help save the life of patient with the critically ill leukemia. Such nanobots are designed to identify cancer cells and then kill them, at the mean time; they would do little harm to healthy cells. However, at this moment, they have just been tested in cell cultures as well as animal studies.

In the announcement made at the British Friends of Bar-Ilan University event last year, Ido Bachelet of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University (and formerly of Harvard’s Wyss Institute) confirmed their human trial. He said that it was actual occurrence rather than a science fiction.

The technology is based on modeling human defenses. Acting as white blood cells do, the nanobots could patrol the bloodstream in order that signs of distress would be identified. As DNA is kind of a material characteristic of being naturally biocompatible and biodegradable, the devices are designed to avoid igniting an immune response.

In their paper published in Science in 2012, Bachelet and colleagues presented the description of a DNA nanobot, which took the shape of a hexagonal tube, with a latched hinge connecting its two halves. As the tiny device identified a target cell on the basis of its surface proteins, the two halves would swing open like a clam for delivery of a tiny but fatal cargo of drugs or nanoparticles. These might be molecules that could put cancer cells to the self-destruction through interfering with their growth. When scientists sent off their little bots into a blending of healthy and cancerous human blood cells, after three days, half of the cancer cells were destroyed without harming any healthy cells.

One year later, a latest version of these DNA nanobots were injected into live cockroaches. To produce such devices, DNA strands were used in the way that they would self-assemble into a box with a controllable lid. Each box controlled a molecule binding hemolymph cells, like blood cells in our body, and the fluorescent markers were labeled on these nanobots, so Bachelet’s could follow them. These findings had released in recent edition of Nature Nanotechnology, showing how accurate their small delivery system were in the paper.

Talking of the possible application of this nano-sized technology to human body in his announcement last year, Bachelet said that at present the DNA nanobots could be bale to identify 12 different types of cells in humans, for example, solid tumors as well as the abnormal white blood cells, which are usually linked with leukemia.

As for early trial this year, the team has chosen the patient who would have just several months to live on. It is expected by scientists that with their efforts the cancer would be removed within one month.

Source:  Next Big Future

Journal reference: Amir, Yaniv, et al. “Universal computing by DNA origami robots in a living animal.” Nature nanotechnology (2014).