Feeds

STEALTHY NANOROBOTS dress up as viruses, prepare to sneak into YOUR BODY

Cloaking techniques nicked from viruses tackle roadblocks on way to medical frontier

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

US scientists have tackled two main stumbling blocks to the development of injectable nanomachines for medical and scientific use.

The breakthroughs were announced in a paper entitled "Virus-Inspired Membrane Encapsulation of DNA Nanostructures To Achieve In Vivo Stability", published in the journal ACS Nano on Tuesday.

Scientists from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard said they had worked out how to protect DNA nanostructures from nuclease degradation (when an enzyme found in blood breaks the bonds which hold DNA together), and also how to stop them triggering inflammatory immune system responses.

This gets rid of one of the main roadblocks to a future when illnesses such as cancer are treated via targeted "smart" medicine rather than extremely blunt tools such as chemotherapy, and people can augment their own bodies with swarms of nano machines: rejection by the body.

Here on El Reg's science faction desk we've spoken to boffins about breakthroughs such as programmable synthetic circuits and nanomotors that can be inserted into cells.

But as exciting as these breakthroughs are, they're worthless if the injectable nanomachines set off immune responses as they flow around the body – and it's that barrier which the Wyss researchers think they have overcome.

The boffins made this breakthrough by taking inspiration from how naturally occurring viruses are able to infiltrate the body.

They were able to cloak the nanomachines by creating a "DNA NanoOctahedron" scaffold which had a diameter of around 50 nanometers, which was then coated it in a lipid layer (a "liposome").

They refined this design by giving the NanoOctahedron some "outer handles" to better bind the lipids onto it. This design ultimately proved resilient to nuclease degradation and also stopped immune system flare-ups.

Nanomachine

This DNA NanoOctahedron may wear a natty

lipid jacket to let it sneak into your body

"People have been interested in using lipid bags to deliver drugs for the past 40 years or so with some varying success," explained Wyss Institute faculty member and paper coauthor William Shih in a chat with El Reg. "We're giving the liposome a backbone."

This means that scientists can now control "the shape and size" of the structures, Shih said, which may let them create differently shaped scaffolds that have different properties. "What if they had a better ability to get into cells or avoid destruction or filtration by our body's defenses? The backbone could provide better mechnical properties," he explained.

As for the future, Shih and the team are performing research in two related areas: one is adding "transmembering features" to the outside to let them attach additional "guests" such as sensors, receptors, or actuators on the outside of the DNA endoskeleton, and another area is trying to see "if we could use the endoskeleton backbone to coordinate response of different sensors".

If this research is successful, the team could theoretically create an extremely low-level analog computer, Shih confirmed, in which a specific combination of inputs could lead to a spatial reconfiguration of the endoskeleton that yielded a specific output, like spurting out a certain drug in response to sensing a particular combination of chemicals.

The technique could also be used to put other components into the DNA endoskeleton, crafting microscopic drugs carrying a payload of crafty nanomachines. "In order to do these very sophisticated interventions you need to be able to put together lots of active elements like motors and pumps and manufacturing sites in a coordinated fashion to get that sophisticated fine-tuned behavior," Shih explained.

We wish Shih and the rest of his team the best of luck in working out how to make gloopy computers a reality. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Ex-Soviet engines fingered after Antares ROCKET launch BLAST
Speculation rife, but Orbital claims it's too early to tell
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
NASA: Spacecraft crash site FOUND ON MOON RIM
'What fun!' exlaims NASA boffin who found the LADEE
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.