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Regina Bailey

DNA Robots

By February 22, 2012

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DNA Nanorobot
Credit: Campbell Strong, Shawn Douglas, and GaŽl McGil/Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard

Researchers have developed a DNA nanorobot that could one day be used to treat various diseases including cancer. The DNA nanorobot was created by folding DNA strands to form complex three-dimensional shapes. The creators of the robot describe its shape as an open barrel with two halves that are connected by a hinge. DNA latches hold the DNA barrel closed, securing specific molecules within the DNA barrel. Once certain proteins are recognized on cell membrane surfaces, the latches change shape causing the barrel to open. The molecules contained within the barrel are then released and are free to interact with their target cells.

According to researcher George Church, "We can finally integrate sensing and logical computing functions via complex, yet predictable, nanostructures -- some of the first hybrids of structural DNA, antibodies, aptamers (molecules that bind to a specific target molecule) and metal atomic clusters -- aimed at useful, very specific targeting of human cancers and T-cells." In the study, the researchers were able to use the DNA nanorobots to deliver self-destruct signals to leukemia and lymphoma cells. The inspiration for this method of treating cancer and other diseases came from the approach used by the body's immune system. Cells of the immune system seek out damaged cells and signal them to undergo programmed cell death.

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