Cancer treatment using “DNA robots”; Research

DNA robot
Opening barrel shape structure and planned release of the payload

Scientists have developed “DNA robot” to treat cancer.

This research has been done by Shawn Douglas of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and collaborators, and published online in the February 17 issue of the journal Science.

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Scientists have created and analyzed a “DNA robot” with ability to deliver payloads such as drug molecules to particular cells.

Scientists have used a method called as “DNA origami” to make the container having DNA chains folded in a prescribed manner. Then they used “aptamers” to lock the barrel shaped robot. Aptamers have the ability to recognize the particular cell types.

Scientists then used these robots and observed the unlocking of the robot on contact with the cancer cell proteins leading to the release of antibodies that stopped the growth of cells.

Dr. Douglas told BBC that all the researchers in this study were assigned different tasks such as developing different shapes using DNA, utilization of antibodies as therapeutics to manipulate cell signaling and the demonstration of aptamers to target cancer cell types, and the biggest challenge was to integrate all these tasks into one.

Researchers considered immune system of human beings, so that robots work just like that of white blood cells targeting blood cells. Then the researchers tested the robots on several cultures of cancerous cells such as leukemia and lymphoma, with corresponding payloads of antibodies.

According to researchers, the robots caused some problems of toxicity but those problems were fewer than many materials and chemicals would have.

Researchers are of the opinion that this method can be used in a wide range of applications, where there is “specificity” relating to cells, as different aptamers can be used to determine proteins responsible for different diseases.

DNA nanorobot from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.


Shawn M. Douglas, Ido Bachelet, George M. Church, (2012). A Logic-Gated Nanorobot for Targeted Transport of Molecular Payloads. Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1214081

Further Reading:

Wyss Institute

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