Published: Fri, February 16, 2018
Life&Culture | By Peggy Hughes

Scientists develop DNA nanorobots capable of stopping cancer growth

Scientists develop DNA nanorobots capable of stopping cancer growth

In case you had any doubts that we live in the future, scientists just created a medical device straight out of Star Trek or, depending on your view of autonomous DNA-splicing nanorobots, perhaps Black Mirror.

Researchers at the Arizona State University and the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led by Molecular Sciences Professor Hao Yan, published the biotech journal Nature Biotechnology. The idea is that an army of these nanorobots cause blood clots throughout the malignant cells, cutting off blood supply and killing the tumour.

Significant progress has been made in the field of nano-medicine and is about cancer.

The scientists hypothesized that the aptamer molecules on the DNA nanorobots would recognize and bind to their nucleolin targets on tumor blood vessels, triggering the fastening strips to pop open.

The structures are comprised of rolled-up DNA sheets packed with molecules of thrombin, a blood-clotting enzyme. The next step is to investigate any damage-such as undetected clots or immune-system responses-in the host organism, he says, as well as to determine how much thrombin is actually delivered at the tumor sites. Over just 48 hours, the DNA nanorobots had already attached to the tumors, releasing the thrombin to cause the blood clots and pushing the tumors to their deaths.

The scientists were also able to demonstrate the bots did not cause clotting in the healthy tissues of Bama miniature pigs, calming fears over what might happen in larger animals.

A study released past year from Durham University in the United Kingdom showed nanomachines powered by light used to drill holes into cancerous cells.

The treatment was most effective in treating mice with melanoma cancers, which have a very strong blood supply, where three out of the eight mice treated showed complete regression of their tumours.

"Our data show that DNA nanorobots represent a promising strategy for precise drug delivery in cancer therapy", read an excerpt from the study. Median survival time more than doubled in the melanoma model, from a median of 20.5 days up to 45. Yuliang Zhao. Importantly, there was no evidence that the nanorobots spread into the brain.

"The thrombin delivery DNA nanorobot constitutes a major advance in the application of DNA nanotechnology for cancer therapy", claims Yan.

Yan and his collaborators are now actively pursuing clinical partners to further develop this technology. "Combinations of different rationally designed nanorobots carrying various agents may help to accomplish the ultimate goal of cancer research: the eradication of solid tumors and vascularized metastases".

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