DNA-based molecular robots zero in on cancer, autoimmune diseases

To effectively target cancer or autoimmune disease cells without causing too much harm to healthy cells in the process, researchers are turning to molecular "robots," small DNA-based platforms with binding sites highly specified to interact solely with disease-causing populations.

Scientists at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and Columbia University published a study in the journal Nature Nanotechnology showcasing robots, or molecular automata, that can identify multiple receptors on a cell's surface, allowing them to target more efficiently cells that cause diseases such as cancer.

In a proof-of-concept study, the researchers mixed healthy human blood with the molecular robots. When a cell was found to have multiple copies of the same receptors on its surface, the robots would "label" this cell with a small strand of DNA, allowing for a more targeted therapy, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery. By labeling specific subsets of these cellular populations, the researchers are able to locate and home in on those that can lead to diseases with mathematical precision.

Antibodies have been used in the past to target disease-causing cells, but by introducing more specificity, it is possible to reduce the side effects of cancer drugs, such as those for leukemia. The researchers also applied fluorescence to the robots to help locate disease-causing populations.

Lead author Sergei Rudchenko said the next step is to conduct the tests in a mouse model of leukemia. The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Lymphoma and Leukemia Foundation all helped support the study.

- here's the HSS report