Researchers from the University of Alberta have developed nanomachines powered by synthetic DNA motors to improve disease detection and drug delivery. The team’s work was published this week in Nature Communications.
The scientists developed the nanomachine using compartments composed of DNA enzyme molecules and substrates. “This nanomachine has the required fuels, DNA tracks, and a molecular switch,” co-author Hongquan Zhang said in prepared remarks.
“This is really big because of the diverse potential applications,” co-author Chris Le added. “One outcome of this will be to provide better and earlier disease detection. Another is the controllable release of targeted drug molecules within patients, resulting in fewer side effects.”
The researchers tuned the nanomachine to detect a microRNA sequence found in breast cancer cells. When it came into contact with the targeted molecules, the DNA motor turned on and produced fluorescence that the researchers could monitor and track.
“We want to be able to detect cancer or disease markers in very minute amounts before the disease gets out of hand. That way physicians can attack it very early,” Le said. “The trace amount of the target molecules that may be missed by other techniques can now be detected with this one.”
In addition to improving disease diagnosis, the team said DNA motors could be used to precisely deliver drugs to patients. Using a DNA motor, a drug payload could be delivered and released only when triggered by a particular molecule, the scientists hypothesized.
“You still have some drug molecules going to the normal cells – you can’t avoid that,” Le said. “Using the DNA motor, we hope to deliver the drug into the cells in an inactive form. Only when the DNA motor encounters the targeted molecules can the drug then be released to be active.”
The team of researchers said they also hope to explore their nanomachines as a diagnostic tool for disease markers other than breast cancer cells.