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Nanorobots for treating cancer have moved from theory to practise Featured image: DNA origami nanorobot.  Source: Inverse Cancer DNA robots, also known as DNA nanorobots, are tiny machines made of DNA that can be programmed to target and destroy cancer cells. These robots are constructed using a method called “DNA origami,” a technique that allows scientists to create complex shapes and structures from DNA molecules. SUBSCRIBE DNA origami nanorobots use long DNA chains that are folded into specific shapes, creating tiny containers.  They can recognise specific cell types using molecules called aptamers.  Once they reach their target cells, they can deliver payloads such as drug molecules. “In essence, the approach co-opts a number of strategies of our immune systems, with the robots playing the role of white blood cells that hunt down problematic cells and destroy them,” the BBC reported in 2012 . The BBC was reporting on laboratory tests that had been conducted by researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. Harvard’s DNA nanorobot is a clam-like bot that can release its drug payload only when it reaches and identifies its target, cancer cells. In 2015, The Week also reported on the work of the researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute. The tiny devices were constructed out of DNA strands and folded into a shape resembling a clamshell, The Week wrote, noting that the nanorobots can be pre-programmed to open up in the presence of cancerous cells.  When they open, they release antibodies that cause the cancer cells to self-destruct .  Wyss Institute: A cell-targeting, payload-delivering DNA robot, 16 February 2012 (6 mins) Read more: Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute Develop DNA Nanorobot to Trigger Targeted Therapeutic Responses , Wyss Institute, 16 February 2012 In 2023, Tech Times reported on researchers from New York University, USA, and Ningbo, China, who had created self-replicating nanorobots entirely made of DNA. These robots, which are controlled by external factors such as temperature and ultraviolet light, meticulously grab, position, and weld DNA parts to fabricate complex structures, demonstrating a novel approach to nanomanufacturing. The ability of nanorobots to manipulate DNA strands is at the very root of this innovation. They expertly align and weld together different parts of DNA, allowing the creation of three-dimensional structures that were previously only available in two dimensions. This innovative approach opens up a world of possibilities, allowing for the creation of intricate and functional nano- and microdevices. The medical applications of these nanorobots are perhaps the most exciting prospect. The ability to navigate the bloodstream and target cancer cells without invasive surgeries has the potential to revolutionise cancer treatment. Scientists Create Self-Replicating Nanorobots Made from DNA , Promises Cancer Cure, Tech Times, 7 December 2023 Not all nanorobots being researched use long DNA chains.  In 2017, the World Economic Forum published an article about researchers at Durham University in the UK developing molecular nanomachines with short peptide addends .  These tiny robots – 50,000 of them would fit across the diameter of a human hair – were touted to have the potential to pack a mighty punch in the fight against cancer. The researchers used nanobots to drill into cancer cells, killing them in just 60 seconds. When activated by light, the nanobots’ rota-like chain of atoms begins to spin at an incredible rate – around two to three million times per second. This causes the nanobot to drill into the cancer cell, blasting it open. The study is still in its early stages, but researchers are optimistic it has the potential to lead to new types of cancer treatment. They are now experimenting on micro-organisms and small fish, before moving on to rodents. Clinical trials in humans are expected to follow. These tiny robots can kill cancer cells , World Economic Forum, 14 September 2017 In the video below, researchers at Rice, Durham and North Carolina State Universities demonstrated in laboratory tests how the molecular nanomachines driven by light have been used to drill holes in the membranes of individual cells. Rice University: Rice University nanomachines constructed to deliver drugs, destroy diseased cells, 30 August 2017 (3 mins) However, in July 2023, a paper published in the Journal of Haematology & Oncology reviewed and analysed the recent advancements of nanobots in cancer treatments.  While many experiments are being conducted in vivo , or in living organisms, it warns of their limitations in clinical settings. The study reviewed nanorobots that use various power sources such as semi-natural nanorobots using magnetic propulsion, ultrasound-driven nanorobots and biologically-driven nanorobots.  Under the section titled ‘ Nanorobot-assisted cancer diagnosis and targeted therapies ’ the paper reviews various DNA nanorobot designs including DNA origami. The following is extracted from the ‘ Abstract ’ and the ‘ Perspectives and conclusions ’ sections of the paper. Nanobots, as one of the most promising applications of nanomedicines, are at the forefront of multidisciplinary research. With the progress of nanotechnology, nanobots enable the assembly and deployment of functional molecular/nanosized machines and are increasingly being utilised in cancer diagnosis and therapeutic treatment. In recent years, various practical applications of nanobots for cancer treatments have transitioned from theory to practice, from in vitro experiments to in vivo [experimental] applications. We believe that using nanorobots as an integrated platform for multiple aims in different anticancer domains will soon be realised in the future … The translation of experimental nanorobots/nanosubmarines into the clinical arena is limited by the complexity and heterogeneity of tumour biology, the lack of comprehensive understanding of nanomaterials-biology interactions, and the absence of scalable synthesis and mass production technologies for nanorobots/nanosubmarines The utilisation of DNA nanotechnology in the form of DNA origami for thrombin delivery highlights the potential of precision drug delivery, yet substantial challenges such as immunogenicity, in vivo metabolic behaviour, and large-scale production must be overcome before clinical implementation. Kong, X., Gao, P., Wang, J. et al. Advances of medical nanorobots for future cancer treatments. J Haematol Oncol 16, 74 (2023). If nanobot injection becomes an option, will you volunteer to take the first steps to become a cyborg? For those who would like to bury their heads in the sand and believe this is all just a “conspiracy theory,” below is some further reading: DNA origami nanorobot takes drug direct to cancer cell , New Scientist, 16 February 2012 Nanomachines that drill into cancer cells killing them in just 60 seconds developed by scientists , The Telegraph, 31 August 2017 A DNA nanorobot functions as a cancer therapeutic in response to a molecular trigger in vivo , Nature Biotechnology, 12 February 2018 The study used DNA nanorobots to kill cancerous tumours , USA Today, 13 February 2018 DNA Nanobots – Emerging Customised Nanomedicine in Oncology , Bentham Science, 14 June 2022 Nanobots Will Be Flowing Through Your Body by 2030 , Interesting Engineering, 3 April 2023

Nanorobots for treating cancer have moved from theory to practise
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