Cancer therapy: nanorobots fight cancer

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Researchers are developing nanorobots for cancer treatment

Scientists from Harvard University in Boston (USA) have developed a nanorobot that will help fight cancer in the future. The tiny robot made of folded DNA is 2000 times thinner than a human hair and can still be programmed for specific functions.

The DNA nanorobot can target cancer cells and initiate their controlled cell death. As the scientists at the Hansjorg Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University report in the current issue of the scientific journal "Science", the nanorobot has so far only been tested in cell cultures, but here with convincing success. In their laboratory experiments, the researchers succeeded in using the nanorobot to bring about the programmed self-destruction of leukemia and lymphoma cells.

Nanorobots based on the model of the human immune defense The nanorobots of the US scientists are designed according to the model of the body's own immune defenses and consist of folded DNA. The nanorobot has the shape of a hexagonal cage, but in an incredibly tiny design. The nanorobot is only 45 nanometers (millionths of a millimeter) long and 35 nanometers thick - about 2,000 times thinner than a human hair. The US scientists used the so-called DNA origami method to process the genetic material. Using the special process, the two halves of the robot were folded and then joined together using tailor-made bars. The nanorobot has special receptors on its surface which, like the white blood cells, enable it to dock onto certain cells. The researchers can determine to which target cells the nanorobot should dock by designing it. In the laboratory tests, the robot was able to recognize certain cancer cells (leukemia or lymphoma cells) and dock onto them. When docked to the cancer cells, the structure of the nanorobot changes, which opens the nanocage and releases the active ingredients it contains.

Nanorobot triggers programmed cell death of cancer cells Theoretically, a wide variety of active ingredients can be transported in the tiny cage. In their experiments, the US researchers headed by study leader Shawn Douglas from Harvard University filled the loading space of the nanorobot with, among other things, molecular messengers that cause the programmed cell death of the cancer cells. In the cancer cells, this self-destruction program of the cells is usually disturbed, which prevents an efficient fight by the immune system. The molecular messenger was transported directly to the cancer cells with the help of the nanorobot and was able to develop its full effect here. Although the messenger had to be adapted to the respective type of cancer, the successful self-destruction of the leukemia and lymphoma cells was subsequently observed in laboratory tests, the US researchers report. The method could also be applied to other cells, whereby a wide variety of actions could be triggered in the desired cell types, explained Shawn Douglas and colleagues. In principle, according to the US scientists, a customized version of the nanorobot can be developed for each target cell in the organism.

Further research on the use of nanorobots required In a next research step, the US scientists want to test their nanorobots in the living organism. Studies on the use of laboratory animals are currently in preparation, explained Shawn Douglas. However, the researchers assume that "probably an improved design" will be required "to ensure stable circulation and function in the bloodstream." In addition, the production of the robot from folded DNA has so far been too expensive. For example, “the device's manufacturing costs” would have to drop significantly before more extensive therapeutic use can be considered. However, research in the field of nanotransporters on the targeted use of active substances against certain cells is currently in full swing in other research facilities, so that further results may be expected in the near future. (fp)

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Video: Cancer-killing nanobots work on mice


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