Scientists have shown that synthetic DNA motors can work in living cells and help early detection of deadly diseases such as cancer and also make drug delivery more precise.
"This is really big because of the diverse potential applications," said one of the researchers Chris Le, Professor at University of Alberta in Canada.
"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," Le said.
The team 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," said Hongquan Zhang, Assistant Professor at University of Alberta, Canada.
For the study, it was 'tuned' to detect a specific microRNA sequence found in breast cancer cells.
When it came into contact with the targetted 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.
"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," Le noted.
In addition to the potential for improved disease diagnosis, the researchers said DNA motors could also be used for precision drug delivery in patients.
Conventional targetted drug 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, a drug payload can be delivered and then released only when triggered by disease specific molecules, the researchers said.