DNA cages can unleash meds inside cells

DNA--it's not just for genetics anymore. Scientists have long sought to use the natural inclination of DNA strands to want to pair up to create self-assembling tools that are not found in nature. Scientists at Oxford University decided it would be neat to make four short strands of synthetic DNA self-assemble into a tiny cage. They discovered that these artificial DNA cages could be used to carry drug cargo inside living cells.

In previous experiments, the researchers have already shown that they can assemble these DNA cages around protein molecules, then open when they encounter "trigger" molecules once they're inside cells. What's new here is they introduced fluorescently labelled DNA tetrahedrons into human kidney cells grown in the lab. The DNA cages survived to tell the story, for at least 48 hours, despite an attack by cellular enzymes. The experiment means that the cages are capable of surviving a sometimes-harsh cellular environment.

"At the moment we are only testing our ability to create and control cages made of DNA," Oxford's Andrew Turberfield said in a release. "However, these results are an important first step towards proving that DNA cages could be used to deliver cargoes, such as drugs, inside living cells."

Another of the DNA cages' useful properties: size. At 7 nanometers across, they can easily slip inside cells and are still large enough to carry cargo, the researchers said.

- read more in Oxford's release
- and check out the abstract in ACS Nano