Published: Thu, February 15, 2018
Medicine | By Melba Vasquez

Study shows DNA nanobots can stunt and shrink cancer

Study shows DNA nanobots can stunt and shrink cancer

When the robots reach their target and bind to its surface they spring open and deliver the enzyme which clots the blood supply to the tumour and causes it to have a mini heart attack and die.

The treatment blocked blood supply to the tumour and generated tumour tissue damage within 24 hours while having no effect on healthy tissues. They are made out of organic materials and in this case, it's DNA.

It may sound like the opening of a science-fiction novel but a study into the use of DNA nanorobots could pave the way to a new era of targeted cancer treatments. The machines, which are so small that about 20 million would fit on to a pinhead, have shrunk human lung, breast and ovarian cancers in mice.

Nanorobot design. Thrombin is represented in pink and nucleolin in blue.S. LI ET AL. NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY 2018
Nanorobot design. Thrombin is represented in pink and nucleolin in blue.S. LI ET AL. NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY 2018

The worldwide team of researchers overcame this problem by using a seemingly simple strategy to very selectively seek and starve out a tumor. The pieces of DNA that guided the robot to cancer cells worked effectively, meaning the bots were successfully programmed to specifically target tumours. The tech, however, is fascinating; it involves recruiting engineered DNA bots to home in on cancerous cells to inject them with a deadly payload.

Once the tumor was growing, the nanorobots were deployed to come to the rescue. "Moreover, this technology is a strategy that can be used for many types of cancer, since all solid tumor-feeding blood vessels are essentially the same".

The DNA nanorobots have not yet been tested in humans, but they hold huge potential as a safe and effective method for killing tumors and treating cancer.

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While they're still experimental and haven't been tested in humans, these nanorobots show a lot of promise for treating cancer. Further analyses showed that nanorobot administration led to blood vessel occlusion in the tumors within just 24 hours; by 48 hours there was advanced thrombosis, and by 72 hours dense thrombi were evident in all the tumor vessels.

Using an extremely clever delivery method, the nanorobots were designed so that thrombin was only released after it was "unlocked" by a particular protein found within the blood vessels of tumours. The researchers also demonstrated this in the healthy tissue of Bama miniature pigs, adding weight to the finding that the nanorobot is, as they describe it, "safe and immunologically inert".

Starved of their blood supply, tumours began to shrink and the cancer's ability to spread and grow in new sites also appeared to be reduced, doubling the life expectancy or removing tumours entirely in some mouse cancers.

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Regardless, this is a huge breakthrough in cancer research.

"I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology", said Professor Yan.

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