Device identifies target then releases deadly payload.
The nanorobots, as the researchers call them, use a similar system to cells in the immune system to engage with receptors on the outside of cells.
“We call it a nanorobot because it is capable of some robotic tasks,” says Ido Bachelet, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and one of the authors of the study, which is published in this week’s issue of Science1. Once the device recognizes a cell, he explains, it automatically changes its shape and delivers its cargo.
The researchers designed the structure of the nanorobots using open-source software, called Cadnano, developed by one of the authors — Shawn Douglas, a biophysicist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. They then built the bots using DNA origami. The barrel-shaped devices, each about 35 nanometres in diameter, contain 12 sites on the inside for attaching payload molecules and two positions on the outside for attaching aptamers, short nucleotide strands with special sequences for recognizing molecules on the target cell. The aptamers act as clasps: once both have found their target, they spring open the device to release the payload.
“You can think about it as a sort of combination lock,” says Bachelet. “Only when both markers are in place, can the entire robot open.”
The researchers tested six combinations of aptamer locks, each of which were designed to target different types of cancer cells in culture. Those designed to hit a leukaemia cell could pick that cell out of a mixture of cell types then release their payload — in this case, an antibody — to stop the cells from growing. They also tested payloads that could activate the immune system.
The work “takes us one more step along the path from the smartest drugs of today to the kind of medical nanobots we might imagine”, says Paul Rothemund, a computational bioengineer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and inventor of DNA origami.
Bookmark this page for “kill cancer cells” and check back regularly as these articles update on a very frequent basis. The view is set to “news”. Try clicking on “video” and “2” for more articles.