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article imageHarvard develops cancer-killing nanorobots

By Sean Fraser     Feb 17, 2012 in Science
Boston - The relentless pursuit of a cure for one of humanity's most devastating diseases took a rather large leap with a very small invention recently as Harvard develops cancer-targeting nanorobots that seek out cancer cells and kills them.
The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is reporting that they have developed a device made of DNA that seeks out cancer cells and injects its payload of DNA-altering molecules, telling the cancer cells to self-destruct.
The process of creating the nanorobots is called DNA origami. The researchers involved with this project used an open source computer program called Cadnano to design the nanorobots, which are called as such because "it is capable of some robotic tasks,” says co-author of the study, Ido Bachelet, in a report by Nature.com. Cadnano was developed by Shawn Douglas, a biophysicist at the Wyss Institute.
According to a NewScientist.com article, Douglas developed a nanorobot that interfered with the growth cycle of leukemia cells. Each nanorobot is outfitted with a series of "locks" which are strands of DNA called aptamers, which are programmed to recognize specific molecules. In the case of the leukemia cells, the aptamers unlocked when they reacted with a molecule on the surface of the cells, which then unloaded a single molecule into the cancer cells. The cells were then mixed with healthy and cancerous blood cells.
Three days later, nearly half the leukemia cells were dead, and none of the healthy cells were touched. Douglas claims that at least two locks are needed so the nanorobot can distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells, and that the locks can be altered to recognize different cancer cells.
However, the nanorobots will have to be redesigned to enter a human bloodstream, as they've only been tested in Petri dishes, according to Douglas in an article for Discovery.com.
For an illustrated explanation of how nanorobots work, here is a video, courtesy of nanobotmodels.com:
More about nanorobot, Cancer, Cancer treatment, Dna, Harvard university
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