Biomedicine Update: Nanomedicine Targets Genes in Cancer Cells

When we think of nanoparticles we often think of carbon nanotubes. But the truth is the world of nanomaterials encompasses everything from metals to lipids and polymers. And biomedical researchers are using DNA and RNA to build nanoparticles aimed at genes that are responsible for cancer cell growth.

The technology comes out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Called nucleic acid origami, tiny particles consisting of DNA and RNA insert themselves into the genetic material of cancer cells turning off the genetic triggers that fuel their growth. Past research tried to deliver RNA and DNA material by combining it with other nanomaterials. But these technologies posed additional risk because the foreign carrier material for the RNA and DNA could lead to contraindications and health risks.

Nanoparticles made from strands of DNA and RNA can be constructed to target genes responsible for tumor cells.                          Source: Hyukjin Lee and Ung Hee Lee, MIT

These new particles are made of DNA and RNA, and are biodegradable. They are designed to take advantage of a natural phenomenon in cells called RNA interference. Short interfering RNA or siRNA gets used by the body to disrupt genetic information carried from DNA to ribosomes within our cells. When DNA goes bad as in cancer cells, wouldn’t a disruptive agent be a welcome tool to stop the cancer from growing?

Nucleic acid origami allows researchers to create DNA packages combined with a single RNA strand that when injected can survive in the bloodstream and reach targeted tumor cells. Once delivered the nanoparticles can disrupt cancer cell growth at tumor sites and deal with rogue cancer cells that break off and migrate to other parts of the body.

The researchers are looking at using nucleic acid origami to deal with other diseases triggered by genes.


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...

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