How molecular machines may drive the future of disease detection and drug delivery

March 6, 2017, University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
University of Alberta scientists have created molecular nanomachines that work in living cells. The work is expected to make inroads on improved disease detection and drug delivery in the future. Credit: Melissa Fabrizio

University of Alberta scientists have pulled into the lead in a race to use nanomachines for improved disease detection and drug delivery in patients.

In a study published in Nature Communications, the researchers describe the creation of synthetic DNA motors in living cells. The process - previously only successful in test tubes - demonstrates how DNA motors can be used to accomplish specific and focused biological functions in live cells.

"This is really big because of the diverse potential applications," says Chris Le, Canada Research Chair and a distinguished university professor of laboratory medicine & pathology. "One outcome of this will be to provide better and earlier detection. Another is the controllable release of targeted within patients, resulting in fewer side effects."

The team, which also includes Hongquan Zhang, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine & pathology, postdoctoral fellow Hanyong Peng, and Xing-Fang Li, a professor of laboratory medicine & pathology, created the nanomachine from compartments made up of DNA enzyme molecules and substrates. "This nanomachine has the required fuels, DNA tracks, and a molecular switch," says Zhang.

For the study, it was 'tuned' to detect a specific microRNA sequence found in . When it came into contact with the targeted molecules, the DNA motor was turned on and produced fluorescence as part of a reaction. The researchers were able to monitor the fluorescence, detecting which cells were cancerous. Le believes the findings show great promise for the early diagnosis of disease.

"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," says Le. "The trace amount of the target molecules that may be missed by other techniques can now be detected with this one."

In addition to the potential for improved disease diagnosis, the researchers say DNA motors could also be used for precision in patients. Conventional targeted therapy delivers medicine to a selectively targeted site of action, yet it still affects a large number of molecules that are not diseased. With the DNA motor, the team says a drug payload can be delivered and then released only when triggered by disease specific molecules.

"You still have some drug molecules going to the normal cells - you can't avoid that," says Le. "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."

While the team used a breast cancer marker for the study, the aim now is to expand the work to examine a wider range of other disease markers. Further testing on the nanomachines is needed to better understand the full range of capabilities for drug delivery.

Explore further: Scientists develop exciting new option for targeted cancer therapy

Related Stories

Scientists develop exciting new option for targeted cancer therapy

December 8, 2016
Scientists from Trinity College Dublin have uncovered a new class of compounds - glyconaphthalimides - that can be used to target cancer cells with greater specificity than current options allow.

Heating targeted cancer drugs increases uptake in tumour cells

February 11, 2015
Manchester scientists have found that gentle heating of targeted nano-sized drug parcels more effectively in deliver them to tumour cells – resulting in an improvement in survival rates.

Promising findings towards targeted breast cancer therapy

November 14, 2016
New research led by Conway Fellow, Professor Joe Duffy and Professor John Crown in St Vincent's University Hospital has reported for the first time on a new treatment that could be used in the majority of patients with triple ...

Researchers discover 'Holy Grail' of cancer treatment

March 24, 2016
Researchers are developing nanotech "smart packages" to target and destroy cancer cells more efficiently and reduce side effects.

Heat-activated 'grenade' to target cancer

October 31, 2015
Researchers have developed cancer drug-packed 'grenades' armed with heat sensitive triggers, allowing for treatment to be targeted directly at tumours, according to two studies due to be presented at the National Cancer Research ...

Recommended for you

Discovery of kidney cancer driver could lead to new treatment strategy

July 19, 2018
University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center scientists have uncovered a potential therapeutic target for kidney cancers that have a common genetic change. Scientists have known this genetic change ...

High fruit and vegetable consumption may reduce risk of breast cancer, especially aggressive tumors

July 19, 2018
Women who eat a high amount of fruits and vegetables each day may have a lower risk of breast cancer, especially of aggressive tumors, than those who eat fewer fruits and vegetables, according to a new study led by researchers ...

Sunscreen reduces melanoma risk by 40 per cent in young people

July 19, 2018
A world-first study led by University of Sydney has found that Australians aged 18-40 years who were regular users of sunscreen in childhood reduced their risk of developing melanoma by 40 percent, compared to those who rarely ...

Analysis of prostate tumors reveals clues to cancer's aggressiveness

July 19, 2018
Using genetic sequencing, scientists have revealed the complete DNA makeup of more than 100 aggressive prostate tumors, pinpointing important genetic errors these deadly tumors have in common. The study lays the foundation ...

Complementary medicine for cancer can decrease survival

July 19, 2018
People who received complementary therapy for curable cancers were more likely to refuse at least one component of their conventional cancer treatment, and were more likely to die as a result, according to researchers from ...

Overcoming resistance to a standard chemotherapy drug

July 19, 2018
Despite being studied for decades, the chemotherapy drug cisplatin is revealing new aspects of how it works. Researchers at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University have identified an enzyme responsible for making tumors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.