Nanosized DNA cages could deliver drugs with triggered release

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal have developed three-dimensional, nanosized cubes made of DNA that can be used to deliver drugs. It marks the first time molecules have been carried within DNA without being attached to the genetic material itself.

The scientists shaped small strands of DNA into cubes and then, to give the cage a release mechanism, attached DNA "tentacles" to each corner of the cube. To trigger a release, a new DNA strand attaches to the cube and cuts off the chains. Preferably, this would occur when the cubes, containing a drug, reach their destination. The reason for using DNA is its ability to form cell-like structures in a variety of shapes, according to a report at

The trick is in the hydrophobic and hydrophilic nature of the tentacles on the corners of the cube--they have an affinity for water on one side and lipids on the other, an ideal characteristic for drug delivery applications. The team of researchers called this, in their paper published in Nature, an "intramolecular 'handshake' inside the cube … that encapsulates small molecules and releases them by DNA recognition."

"We are able to create DNA cages with any geometry, size or shape, and that's unique among drug delivery vehicles," said team leader Hanadi Sleiman. "They are extremely programmable."

Currently, the research is in the very early stages, but the researchers experimented with the cubes' abilities to carry desatinib, a common leukemia treatment, according to the report.

"It's just the beginning," Sleiman said. "To be a powerful drug delivery system you need the release to happen inside or on the cell. That's going to be the next hurdle."

- here's the abstract
- and here's the report