Stealthy, DNA-based 'nano-cocoons' deliver cancer-killing payloads

Nano-coccoon with cancer-seeking ligands on its surface--Courtesy of Zhen Gu

Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina have developed a DNA-based delivery vehicle capable of acting as a Trojan horse in cancer cells. Using DNA as a cage instead of synthetic materials makes the vehicle less toxic to healthy cells and allows for the attachment of precise targeting mechanisms.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the researchers describe their "bioinspired cocoon-like anticancer drug delivery system," which they constructed by rolling single-stranded DNA as one would a ball of yarn. They loaded it with the cancer drug doxorubicin and "decorated" it with ligands that bind to receptors on cancer cells. In the acidic environment of a tumor, these activate the enzyme DNase, breaking the cocoon down and releasing the drug.

"This drug delivery system is DNA-based, which means it is biocompatible and less toxic to patients than systems that use synthetic materials," lead author Zhen Gu said in a statement. "This technique also specifically targets cancer cells, can carry a large drug load and releases drugs very quickly once inside the cancer cell."

These types of delivery vehicles are very promising in the cancer arena for their ability to bypass the immune system on their way to the cancer cell, slipping into the cells unnoticed and then releasing drugs in a way that protects surrounding healthy cells. And by making them out of simple materials like DNA, they can be relatively easy to manufacture, according to the scientists.

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

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