DNA nanorobot from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.


Star Trek's "Borg" use nano-probes for cell-repair and to fight unwanted intrusion inside their human/robot bodies. It sounds like an effective way of fighting damaged cells, but it is science fiction. However, this Star Treks technology may be brought into reality for fighting off diseased cells (cancer) with the help of DNA origami. Designed by Paul Rothemund at CIT (California Institute of Technology), DNA origami is the folding of a single DNA strand into various two and three dimensional shapes.



Programmable DNA nanorobot concept model. (via Wyss Institute & Campbell Strong, Shawn Douglas, and Gaël McGill using Molecular Maya and cadnano)


These can be made into a different number of things such as miniature images or even a programmable robot. Harvard University's Wyss Institute researcher Shawn Douglas, and his team, have created a barrel-like nano-robot that can deliver a dose of medicine to diseased cells. The ‘barrel’ is held shut by two DNA ‘latches’ that only release and introduce the medicine when they encounter specific cell proteins found in cancer. The team has tested this application with both leukemia and lymphoma cells that were mixed in with non-diseased cells. The nano-robots were programmed to seek out and deliver their payload known to kill those disease cells respectively. After a three day test period, the robots effectively killed around half of the cancerous cells without harming the healthy ones. Think of it as a super-mechanical white blood cell that homes in on cells that are in distress and targets them for termination.


This method is by no means and end-all to the cancer problem as it is still in the development stage and has not been run through clinical trials. The team has encountered some challenges along the way as to programming, shape of the nano-robot, method of medicine delivery and a host of other problems. However, any hope for an effective treatment for battling cancer is excellent news and should be viewed as such.