Microscopic Robots and DNA Origami
Of Mice, Men and Microtechnology
Yan (then a researcher at ASU Biodesign) and Skysong Innovations (then Arizona Technology Enterprises) first crossed paths in 2005, when Yan presented a proposal to develop “aptamer-binding technology” oriented towards tumor regression. At the time, Yan’s research team hoped their initiative would help them target unique proteins, or aptamers, located only on the surface of tumor cells. Drawing from Chang’s discoveries in DNA engineering, Yan planned on implanting DNA nanostructures with clotting enzymes, folded and “locked” into the DNA helices, which might then seek out and bind to cancerous tissues via aptamer detection. Once the nanostructures had latched onto the cells’ surfaces, Yan hoped they could be programmed to unzip, delivering tumor-starving enzymes to cancerous growths while leaving healthy tissues intact.
Yan’s dedication paid off. According to the new Nature article, the mice’s tumor cells first began to show signs of clotting within just 24 hours. Three days after being injected with antigen-packed, tumor-seeking nanostructures, all extant tumor vessels had been clotted and were being progressively starved of blood and oxygen. And just as incredibly, none of Yan’s studies detected any adverse or unforeseen effects in the mice’s healthy cells or in cancer-free controls.