Molecular Robotics Targeting Anti-cancer Therapy

By Kal Kaur

A new proof of concept study using human cells has helped to demonstrate the use of molecular “robots” to target specific cells, which could open up a new approach to anti-cancer therapy and the delivery of anti-cancer agents to clearly isolate cancerous cells.

This approach is an exciting opportunity to understand how malignant tumours can be better targeted without affecting the surrounding healthy tissue that most often leads to unwanted side effects associated with chemotherapy.

So how did Sergei Rudchenko, Ph.D., director of flow cytometry at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City and collaboration between researchers from HSS and Columbia University use robotic technology and marry this with the world of cancer drug delivery to develop a technique - a critical step forward - in the development of targeted drug treatment? 

One of the biggest complications in the delivery of targeted anti-cancer agents is achieving maximum specificity for the cancer cells without targeting similar receptors on healthy cells.

The latest research study used molecular robots termed ‘molecular automata’ to target multiple receptors on the surface of cells and using this technology to specify a target subpopulation of cells.

Credits: Photos.com.

These microscopic robots are made from DNA molecules that are programmed to follow certain instructions within a cell structure, making emerging applications for this development a major breakthrough in DNA nanotechnology.

These molecular robots are not typical to an automated system made up of nuts, bolts and girders for example; it is the genetic code that has now been extensively studied to become the architecture of these molecular robots – a breakthrough that could be the foundation in leading to the development of self-assembled DNA robots that can travel freely through the human body.

The molecular automata are made up of antibodies and short DNA oligonucleotides that carry a user-specific DNA sequence.  

In the current research, each molecular robot was designed with an antibody component of CD45, CD3 or CD8 subsets to white blood cell receptors. These molecular robots also carry a DNA component.

The idea here is that if one molecular robot with a CD45 antibody attaches to the complimentary receptor of a cell and a different molecular robot attaches to a CD3 component of a cell then the close proximity of both robots results in a pathway that creates a unique DNA strand which fluoresces when identified in a solution.

This labelling technique to isolate a subpopulation of cells could then help develop more targeted drug agents.

This research which also involved Alesia Dechkovskaia from HSS, Steven Taylor, Ph.D., Payal Pallavi, B.A., Safana Khan, Vincent Butler, M.D., and Milan Stojanovic, Ph.D., from Columbia University with Dr. Stojanovich also as a senior author, is set to be studied in a pre-clinical testing phase before it can be examined in human clinical trials.

The application of molecular robot biotechnology to create specific DNA strands to help identify target cells will take the world of medicine into a new era of patient care for overcoming the many challenges associated with chemotherapeutics.

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Date Added: Jul 29, 2013 | Updated: Jun 25, 2014
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