DNA Robot Targets and Destroys Cancer Cells

Nanorobot mimics behaviour of white blood cells to get the job done!

DNA nanorobot from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

Upon identifying specific deviant cells, the tiny organic robot releases its payload of destructive material onto the cancerous target while well-functioning surrounding cells remain out of harm’s way. This is the gist of the research carried out by Shawn Douglas, Ido Bachelet and George Church that was recently published in Science.

The team from Harvard’s Wyss Institute are calling it a nanorobot because it has various robotic capabilities however, this robot makes no use of fancy new materials- instead, it’s made out of one of the age-old molecules of life; DNA. By means of a special technique, now being called DNA Origami, different sized strands of DNA are folded into specific structures. The DNA robot contains special pieces of protein called aptamers that keep the clam-shaped body of the robot locked until it comes into contact with a cancerous cell. Once linked to the target cell, the bot releases a powerful burst of antibodies, thereby killing the cancerous cells, operating much like members of our natural defense system; white blood cells.

The realisation of this could only have been made possible through the convergence of various specialized lines of research. In an article by the BBC Dr. Douglas explains that the novel part of the project has really been about blending different sorts of technology into one working device: ¬®we’ve been working on figuring out how to build different shapes using DNA over the past several years, and other researchers have used antibodies as therapeutics, in order to manipulate cell signalling, and yet others have demonstrated that aptamers can be used to target cancer cell types”.

So far the robot’s cancer fighting battles have been limited to the placid terrains of a petri dish, nevertheless, results are promising and researchers are hoping to begin trials on mice in the near future.

Did you know a robot could be made out of DNA or out of ultra-thin sheets of carbon atoms? These kinds of robots are far from the common notion of the job-stealing drone! If you’re interested in innovative research that may seem more fantastic than fiction, check out the European Flagship Initiatve Robot Companions for Citizens.

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