Nanobots for DNA? A New Approach to Cancer Treatment

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Here's what we know about this futuristic technique after some research.

Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world it is estimated that every seventh person dies because of cancer. It is the second deadliest disease after heart attack that causes most deaths worldwide. At any given moment 14 million people are affected by it. It is also very ancient even its roots can also be found in the mummies of Egypt and some skeletons from other places like Greece and Sudan.

Most researchers have the theory that this disease may have originated from burning woods. Treatment from cancer can also be found in Egyptian art and literature. In recent years it is confirmed that the development around human change in diet and adaptation of human lifestyle has increased the chances of cancer.

In 2022 alone almost 32% of cancer patients died. Most common cancer types are: breast, lung, colon and rectum and prostate cancers. Cancer is caused by mutation; the inability of cell to kill its self. In cancer a single mutation can be stopped.

When many mutations occur, it bypasses the fail safes (basically the immune system's capability to kill the rogue cells). It can also travel from an affected organ to another distant organs and they may be incurable once they spread. Treatment of cancer is not easy as there are more than 200 types of cancer.


Why nanobots?

Cancer has four stages from I to IV, treatment of the patient is determined by these stages. If detected earlier it can be cured but if it is detected late mostly because symptoms are not apparent, then the treatment would be very harsh and chances of survival are low.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are most common ways to cure cancer but it has a drawback, while it eliminates the cancerous cells it also kills the healthy ones. And since human body is delicate, it does not cope with these harmful radiations.

That's where the nanobots come. They are robots with size of 50 to 100 nm. They have been long envisioned as drug delivering medium for all sorts of diseases. Nanobots can deliver drugs with reliably and agility.



Also, they can be programmed to target specific affected part. It also does not have any side effects. It can be helpful for the better tomorrow. For numerous machine learning softwares and also for better understanding of various diseases like cancer.

In past, nanobots were very basic they were unidirectional. Now we have as species have built dynamic nanobots that can deliver drugs. With the advancement of the technology we will be able to make nanobots that can scan different organs and can tell you about abnormal body temperature.

And it can detect, if you had caught a bug before you start experiencing symptoms. Most importantly they can diagnose cancer and may neutralize it. It can work remotely and efficiently as it is easy for the doctor to have a check on their patient about their health.

To design such a robot, researchers used open source software known as Cadnano. Using this software, they were able to fold DNA to make 3d structures and this technique is known as DNA origami.

They build a structure that looks like open ended barrel containing of two halves, the two halves can be connected with molecular hinges which can be closed or open to form a clamshell like structure.

That in turn can carry the intended medicine, molecular anchors are used to contain the drugs inside and two secured aptamers are used to detect the affected area. These two aptamers also work as fasteners. Once they identify their target they open the shell and releases the drug.

This nanobot have two functions OFF and ON, in OFF mode the nanobot bypasses the health cells and in ON mode the aptamers detect and opens the halves of the shell to expose the drug.

In 2012 researchers at Harvard University loaded fluorescent tagged antibodies against human leukocyte antigens in the nanobots so that they can specifically engage the cancer cells. Bots would open payload upon identifying the target.

In 2014 Israeli and USA researches injected assorted nanobots in cockroaches, the bots were marked with fluorescent markers and were carefully monitored that how they would deliver the drug. They were amazed that the precision of those bots were that of a computer. Researchers are hopeful that they would develop ways to protect the bots from immune response of the human body.

Most recently CALTECH researchers have made a nanobot which has three parts leg, hand and an arm that looks like its crawling when it moves, it carries drug to its target. Moreover, there is another nanobot that delivers thrombin, an enzyme that clots the blood and destroys the tumor. After its successful trial scientists are hopeful that they are safe enough to be used in humans.


There's a catch

How tempting nanobots seems to be there is one big problem to solve and that is money. Of course, large amount of money is needed in order to make them viable and only handful of research institutes have them made.



Another issue with those bots is that they need more research because it is an emerging technology, as in the case of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) which was invented in 2012 and is still not available for the public due to safety reasons and trials are ongoing for the technology's reliability.

Nanobots needs to survive in human body because our immune system can perceive them as foreign object and can start attacking them and this can cause all sorts of problems, human trials are needed. More importantly we don't know what they can react to human body as many normal things like organ transplant that can be labelled as foreign by our immune system.

One can think what might happen in the case of nanobots. Can they become rogue bots? No one knows. A terrifying thing that has happened as in the case of Xenobots that started reproducing, that is also the risk with the nanobots what they can become?

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