Note: theoretically this can be used to cause cancer too. – JR
Scientists Score Big Breakthrough in Treating Cancer With Nanobots
Ray Kurzweil, call your office—Harvard scientists have developed a cell-sniffing nanorobot that can deliver payloads of drug molecules to cancer-stricken areas of a person’s body.
The researchers said Friday in a peer-reviewed study that they used their nanobots to deliver antibodies to lymphoma, leukemia, and other types of cancer cells, succeeding in halting their growth.
The study describing experiments with the device prototype was published in this week’s edition of the journal Science by Shawn Douglas, Ido Bachelet, and George Church of the Harvard Medical School’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Department of Genetics.
In describing the practical application of nanotechnology to treat maladies like cancer, which have proven difficult to battle with more conventional medicine, the study appears to realize to some extent the predictions of futurists like Kurzweil. He is the famous proponent of anartificial intelligence “singularity”, who has also promoted the possibility of greatly extended life spans (or more boldly, even immortality) through advances such as nanorobotics.
The exceedingly tiny nanobots deployed by the researchers are not precisely the constructs one imagines when thinking of larger robots. Instead of being made of metal, plastic, and circuitry, the Harvard team’s nanorobots were created using “DNA origami,” or “folding” DNA chains to form a barrel-shaped container for a payload of cancer antibodies.
The researchers targeted their payload-carrying nanobots using aptamers, molecule strands that can be engineered to “recognize” specific types of cells like cancer cells, according to anabstract of the study.
When the aptamers come into contact with cancer cells, they cause the nanobot’s container to “unlock” and spill out the antibodies contained within.
“The device can be loaded with a variety of materials in a highly organized fashion and is controlled by an aptamer-encoded logic gate, enabling it to respond to a wide array of cues,” the scientists wrote. “We implemented several different logical AND gates and demonstrate their efficacy in selective regulation of nanorobot function.”
In two separate experimental settings involving cell-signaling stimulation in tissue culture, the researchers loaded their barrel-shaped nanobots with antibody fragments for release at targeted sites when the aptamer-based sniffer instructed the devices to do so.
“We’ve been working on figuring out how to build different shapes using DNA over the past several years, and other researchers have used antibodies as therapeutics, in order to manipulate cell signalling, and yet others have demonstrated that aptamers can be used to target cancer cell types,” Douglas, the study’s lead author, told the BBC.
“The novel part is really integrating all those different pieces and putting them together in a single device that works,” he said.
Douglas told the BBC that constructing the nanobots out of DNA made them more likely to be able to travel through our bodies safely without being rejected or harming us. He said the team was now working on optimizing the devices and building “a great many of them” for animal testing.