Caltech researchers develop DNA robots for targetted drug delivery

18 September 2017

In a recent advance robots made from DNA were programmed to sort and deliver molecules to a specified location, which is seen as an important step in targetted drug delivery.

According to commentators, though nanotech is still in its infancy, new research from the California Institute of Technology points to the tremendous potential of this technology. A CalTech research team led by Anupama Thubagere and Lulu Qian has built robots from DNA, and programmed them to bring individual molecules to a designated location.

The technology could one day be used to transport molecules of many types throughout the body potentially transforming everything from drug delivery to how the body fights infections to how microscopic measurements are made.

In experiments conducted earlier, DNA robots were made to perform simple tasks, but this latest effort ramped up the level of complexity considerably, and has also opened a path towards the development of general-purpose DNA robots.

"It is the first time that DNA robots were programmed to perform a cargo-sorting task, but more important than the task itself, we showed how this seemingly complex task - and potentially many other tasks - that DNA robots can be programmed to do uses very simple and modular building blocks," explained Qian in an email to Gizmodo. "This is also the first example showing multiple DNA robots collectively performing the same task."

For the experiment, led by recent PhD graduate and bioengineer Anupama Thubagere, researchers designed a flat surface made of DNA and inserted DNA ''pegs'' to which the robots could stick their feet as they walked.

The surface also supported ''cargo,'' in the form of yellow and pink fluorescent molecules, and cargo drop-off points. The robots were programmed to move about on the surface until they encountered a tiny piece of cargo, then pick it up and travel until they encountered the right drop-off point.

According to experts, such robots could be useful in all sorts of medical contexts, from detecting cancer and other disease markers to setting up little molecular factories capable of producing drugs and sending them into the bloodstream when needed.

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