More information: http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewpressrelease/75/
We've seen various experimental approaches that aim to increase the efficacy of chemotherapy while also reducing its damaging side effects by specifically targeting cancer cells. The latest encouraging development comes from Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering where researchers have created a barrel-like robotic device made from DNA that could carry molecular instructions into specific cells and tell them to self-destruct. Because the DNA-based device could be programmed to target a variety of cells, it could be used to treat a range of diseases in addition to providing hope in the fight against cancer.
The team based their programmable nanotherapeutic approach on the body's own immune system in which white blood cells circulate in the blood ready to attack an infection where it has developed. Just like white blood cells that are able to hone in on specific cells in distress and bind to them, the researchers created a DNA barrel that can recognize and seek out combinations of cell-surface proteins, including disease markers.
By folding strands of DNA in what is known as the "DNA origami" method, the researchers create a three-dimensional open barrel shape whose two halves are connected by a hinge. The container is held shut by special DNA latches that reconfigure when they find their specific target - cancer cells, for example - causing the two halves to swing open and expose the container's payload. These payloads can be of various types, including molecules with encoded instructions that can interact with surface signaling receptors.
Shawn Douglas, Ph.D., and Ido Bachelet, Ph.D., used the DNA barrel to deliver instructions encoded in antibody fragments to two different types of cancer cells - leukemia and lymphoma. Since leukemia and lymphoma speak different languages the messages were written in different antibody combinations. But the message was the same - activate the cell's so called "suicide gene," which will cause a cell to kill itself through apoptosis.