The name is James, James DNA Nano-Robot

The illustrious 007 agent is renown for abilities as a secret agent spy, and some of his stealth techniques have been mimicked in science and applied to DNA nano-devices in an effort to detect cancerous villains. Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have conducted a study by cloaking DNA nano-devices to avoid detection from the body’s immune system. The purpose underlying the research is to simulate a virus entering the body and slipping past the immune response defense.

DNA on left is uncloaked, DNA on right is coated in lipid envelope to avoid immune system detection.

DNA on left is uncloaked, DNA on right is coated in lipid envelope to avoid immune system detection.

DNA is commonly recognized as the building blocks of the human genome; however, this study utilizes a different function of DNA by manipulating the shape of the strand of DNA and folding it into the desired product. Eventually, the hope is that the technology of DNA manipulation will result in nano-devices capable of detecting individual virus cells. One promising example in development is a nano-robot that detects a leukemia or lymphoma cell, which triggers the release of an antibody that causes the cells to commit suicide.

The major obstacle preventing the application of these DNA nano-devices is the initial immune response by the body to attack foreign cell invaders. In a mouse model, the nano-robots were quickly attacked by the immune system rendering them useless. The research conducted in this study aimed to resolve this problem by cloaking the DNA nano-devices in a phospholipid layer to mimic the same defense in a virus’s arsenal. To create the viral envelope around the DNA, they altered the structure by folding in handles to hang lipids from on the surface. Efficiency of the new lipid layer was tested by injecting them with fluorescent dye and putting the nano-robots in mice to see where they ended up. They quickly discovered that the nano-devices had accumulated all throughout the mice, indicating that they were able to slip past the immune system detection.

The ability to cloak DNA nano-robots from the immune system is a crucial step toward utilizing the novel abilities of these nano-devices for cancer and viral elimination in the future. Technology and capability of nano-robots will be the next step to tapping into the potential in this exciting developing field.

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