In an international collaboration, scientists at Arizona State University and National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have developed the first autonomous cancer-targeting ‘nanorobots’.
DNA nanorobots, made up of a rolled-up sheet of DNA carrying thrombin (a protein that causes blood to clot) and a molecule that can specifically recognise tumour blood vessels, were injected into mouse models of breast cancer, melanoma and ovarian cancer.
In mice, the DNA nanorobots successfully sought out tumours and released thrombin in tumour blood vessels, causing clotting which obstructed tumours’ blood supply, whilst leaving the blood vessels supplying healthy cells intact.
When tested in pigs, which have similar anatomy and physiology to humans, the nanorobots were found to be safe, and didn’t cause clotting elsewhere around the body or other unexpected side effects.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said:
“The development of nanorobots that can deliver drugs to a specific target within a tumour is an exciting glimpse into the future of cancer medicine.
“This is the first time that DNA molecules have been manipulated to deliver drugs in this way – a fascinating advance that, if refined and proven effective in humans, could have far-reaching implications for treating cancer and other diseases.
“While still in early stages, that this approach could target tumour blood vessels whilst leaving the bloody supply of healthy cells supply intact, is very promising. But there is also the possibility that these DNA nanorobots could be coupled with different drugs to target other tumour features, offering even more promise in treating breast cancer.
“We now look forward to further development and testing of this concept, to better understand the full potential of nanotechnologies in providing new options for breast cancer patients.”