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Nanorobot Targets Cells

Novel technology could potentially seek out cancer cells and cause them to self-destruct

Wyss Institute
February 17, 2012

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a robotic device made from DNA that could potentially seek out specific cell targets within a complex mixture of cell types and deliver important molecular instructions, such as telling cancer cells to self-destruct. Inspired by the mechanics of the body’s own immune system, the technology might one day be used to program immune responses to treat various diseases. The research findings appear in today’s issue of Science.

The programmable DNA nanorobot was modeled on the body's own immune system in which white blood cells patrol the bloodstream for any signs of trouble. Image courtesy of Wyss InstituteUsing the DNA origami method, in which complex three-dimensional shapes and objects are constructed by folding strands of DNA, Shawn Douglas, a Wyss Technology Development Fellow, and Ido Bachelet, a former Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow who is now an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Nano-Center at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, created a nanosized robot in the form of an open barrel whose two halves are connected by a hinge. The DNA barrel, which acts as a container, is held shut by special DNA latches that can recognize and seek out combinations of cell-surface proteins, including disease markers. When the latches find their targets, they reconfigure, causing the two halves of the barrel to swing open and expose its contents, or payload. The container can hold various types of payloads, including specific molecules with encoded instructions that can interact with specific cell surface signaling receptors.

“We can finally integrate sensing and logical computing functions via complex, yet predictable, nanostructures—some of the first hybrids of structural DNA, antibodies, aptamers and metal atomic clusters—aimed at useful, very specific targeting of human cancers and T-cells,” said George Church, a Wyss core faculty member and Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, who is principal investigator on the project.

For the complete news story, and a video describing the project, please visit the Wyss Institute website.

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