Cancer-Fighting Nanorobots Are the Future

Ebony Scott
February 15, 2018

In a major advancement in nanomedicine, an global team of scientists has successfully programmed nanorobots for the first time in mammals, that potentially shrinks tumours by cutting off their blood supply. "These nanorobots can be programmed to transport molecular payloads and cause on-site tumor blood supply blockages, which can lead to tissue death and shrink the tumor", notes Prof. The tube structure is held together by fastener strands that include DNA aptamer molecules created to nucleolin, a protein specifically expressed on tumor-associated endothelial cells.

This demonstration, which marks a major step towards the implementation of nanobot drug delivery in medicine, could pave the way for delivering toxic chemotherapy drugs with reduced side effects, among a host of other uses. The pieces of DNA that guided the robot to cancer cells worked effectively, meaning the bots were successfully programmed to specifically target tumours.

This new technology eliminates previous issues that scientists faced with trying to create tumor-killing nanorobots.

In testing, the technology was successful against breast cancer, melanoma, ovarian, and lung cancer mouse models, and the researchers believe the success will continue because "all solid tumor-feeding blood vessels are essentially the same".

At Arizona State University (ASU), years of research have poured into the study of nanorobots as cancer-fighting tools. They then carried out a series of in vitro experiments to show that the thrombin-loaded nanorobots (nanorobot-Th) caused coagulation. Further, in the case of the melanoma model, the nanorobots appeared to be able to prevent the spread of melanoma to the liver and with the lung cancer model, the lungs even showed an ability to begin repairing themselves once the tumor growth had slowed. 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".

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S. Li et al., "A DNA nanorobot functions as a cancer therapeutic in response to a molecular trigger in vivo, " Nature Biotechnology, doi:10.1038/nbt.4071, 2018.

Yan and colleagues first generated a self-assembling, rectangular, DNA-origami sheet to which they linked thrombin, an enzyme responsible for blood clotting. The nanorobot therapy was particularly effective in a melanoma mouse model, in which three of eight treated mice showed complete tumor regression and more than double median survival time.

"Our data show that DNA nanorobots represent a promising strategy for precise drug delivery in cancer therapy", read an excerpt from the study.

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

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