Ido Bachelet, a professor from BarIlan University in Israel, and his research team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, are making significant progress in the development of robotic devices comprised of folding strands of DNA, aka, DNA nanobots.
These biomimetic devices imitate responses of the body’s own immune system that patrols the bloodstream for a specific set of conditions. The origami-like manipulation of DNA strands are designed to form two halves of a barrel, connected by two DNA aptamers that act as a combination lock. When proper conditions are met, such as detection of an antibody, cell-surface proteins, or disease marker, the barrel can open and release contents that can be carried inside.
Bachelet believes this technology will aid in developing drug candidates that can effectively delivery therapeutics to localized sites, by-passing the toxic whole body side effects that cause drug trials to end early.
“It is not science fiction, it is already happening” said Bachelet, at a recent event where he also announced that DNA nanobots will be used to deliver chemotherapy in a critically ill leukemia patient that has been given 6 months left to live.
“These robots are going to scan every cell in his body, and cells they will recognize as leukemia cells, they will destroy specifically without even touching the other cell types; and judging from what we saw in animals, within a month that person is going to recover” explained Bachelet.
His team has successfully employed the DNA origami robots in living cockroaches to control a molecule that targets the cells of the animal. The molecular programmed nanobots can be directly injected by syringe (up to 1 trillion 50 nanometer nanobots) to seek out and perform cellular surgeries by means of molecular sensing techniques.
The nanobots are designed to mimic social behavior of insects that can carry out logical operations in a living organism. Some functions could include delivering enzymes to break cells down via programmable nanoparticles or delivering insulin to specific sites. The possibilities of this technology are endless and extend beyond just killing cancer cells.
Currently, the nanobots can identify 12 different types of cancer tumors on human cells. Bachelet and his team envision the possibility of using this tool in healthy people as well as a screen of the body for any type of cancer before it can spread. They are also working on successfully regenerating nerve connections in tissue culture which they hope to implement for spinal cord regeneration in humans in the near future.