This week, Harvard University’s team, lead by Shawn Douglas, announced the invention of a new American nano-robot, based on a sequence of human DNA, designed to transmit information and instructions to cells. This robot is inspired in the model of the human immune system.
With its nanometric scale, and its ability to program cells, it can open new doors in biomedical therapies. Researchers say it can be a new option to fight cancer, as it can reprogram cells so that they auto-destroy themselves.
In the experiments carried out by the American scientists, they used the nano-robot to transmit instructions to two types of cells: a leukaemia and a lymphoma cell. The robot activated the apoptosis function (cellular suicide) used by the body to kill old or faulty cells.
The scientists gave it a hexagonal shape using a special technique called DNA origami used to change the DNA’s shape. This can be done with DNA as it can be easily sinthesized and manipulated to change it to several forms.
The robot’s objectives are to improve the use of certain medicines and transmit molecular signals.
Although the program is quite advanced, it stills has some problems to be solved.
For example, scientists have to figure out which structure and shape to use to increase the robot’s capacity, They also have to find an appropriate method that can manipulate the robot (open, insert instructions, transport it…) at nanoscale in the body.
To find more details about this new invention, visit www.sciencemag.org
This method differs from the last attempt of using a nanoscopic robot to cure illnesses in many ways.
The latest model, also a nano-robot, didn’t carry instructions that activated the cells suicide. It used an RNA Interference therapy, which targeted the virus’ messenger RNA that stopped protein production in intruder cells, causing death of these cells by starvation. Its designers, Andrew Fine and Craig Mello, won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine because of this robot.
Both of this known anti-cancer treatments are very efficient, but still need testing to become more widely used. Nowadays, we still use radiotherapy and anti-cancer drugs, which have much more problems than the use of nano-robots. The biggest being the death of other benevolent cells and not just cancer cells.