DNA-based nanodevices for molecular medicine: an overview

September 25, 2015

Virus-protein-coated DNA origami nanostructures. With the help of protein encapsulation, DNA origamis can be transported into human cells much more efficiently. (credit: Veikko Linko and Mauri Kostiainen)

KurzweilAI has covered a wide variety of research projects that explore how DNA molecules can be assembled into complex nanostructures for molecular-scale diagnostics, smart drug-delivery, and other uses. For example, tailored DNA structures could find targeted cancer cells and release their molecular payload (drugs or antibodies) selectively.

An article written by researchers from Aalto University just published in Trends in Biotechnology journal, comparing biological DNA-nanomachine developments and their uses, should help put this varied research in perspective.

The authors explain that “the field of structural DNA nanotechnology started around 30 years ago when Ned Seeman performed pioneering research with DNA junctions and lattice. … The key player in the fast development of DNA nanotechnology was the invention of DNA origami in 2006. The DNA origami method is based on folding a long
single-stranded ‘DNA scaffold strand’ into a customized shape with a set of short synthetic strands that act as ‘staples’ to bind the overall structure together.”

“This method is the starting point for practically all other straightforward design approaches available today,” says Veikko Linko, an Academy of Finland postdoctoral researcher from Biohybrid Materials Group and first author.

The accurate shape of a DNA origami nanostructure can be used to create entirely metallic nanoparticles on silicon substrates. (credit: Veikko Linko, Boxuan Shen and Mauri Kostiainen with permission from Royal Society of Chemistry)

Versatile DNA nanostructures

The most important feature of a DNA-based nanostructure is its modularity, the authors note. DNA structures can be fabricated with nanometer-precision, and other molecules such as RNA, proteins, peptides and drugs can be anchored to them with the same resolution.

Such a high precision can be exploited in creating nanosized optical devices as well as molecular platforms and bar codes for various imaging techniques and analytics.

The author further point out that for molecular medicine, DNA-based devices could be used for detecting single molecules and modulating cell signaling. In the near future, highly sophisticated DNA robots could even be used in creating artificial immune systems, they note.

In addition, a system based on tailored DNA devices could help to avoid unnecessary drug treatments, since programmed DNA-nanorobots could detect various agents from the blood stream, and immediately start the battle against disease.

Abstract of DNA Nanostructures as Smart Drug-Delivery Vehicles and Molecular Devices

DNA molecules can be assembled into custom predesigned shapes via hybridization of sequence-complementary domains. The folded structures have high spatial addressability and a tremendous potential to serve as platforms and active components in a plethora of bionanotechnological applications. DNA is a truly programmable material, and its nanoscale engineering thus opens up numerous attractive possibilities to develop novel methods for therapeutics. The tailored molecular devices could be used in targeting cells and triggering the cellular actions in the biological environment. In this review we focus on the DNA-based assemblies – primarily DNA origami nanostructures – that could perform complex tasks in cells and serve as smart drug-delivery vehicles in, for example, cancer therapy, prodrug medication, and enzyme replacement therapy.