Posted on Mar 02, 2017, 6 a.m.
Researchers develop the first DNA computer capable of pinpointing several antibodies in the blood and carrying through resultant calculations.
A team of researchers has developed an intelligent DNA computer that can enable controlled drug delivery into the bloodstream. The team, from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, believes this new method will lead to the development of smart drugs that more effectively treat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. The team, led by Professor of Biochemical Chemistry Maarten Merkx, published their findings in the Nature Communications journal.
DNA computing is a largely experimental field of scientific study. Using a combination of DNA, biochemistry, and molecular biology hardware, researchers seek to use DNA sequencing for data storage and to perform complex calculations.
The goal of this new field is to create nano-computers using DNA instead of mechanical parts. The resulting machines would be able to store immense amounts of data and make complex calculations faster than inorganic equipment. Some scientists believe DNA computers may one day replace silicon-based hardware.
Possible Applications in Medical Treatment
DNA computing methods, due to their organic nature, allow medicines to work more effectively with the body’s natural defenses. Researchers compare the body to a security system with facial recognition. Previous research has focused on creating a machine that is recognized by the body, similar to the way a security system would recognize an authorized person.
Professor Merkx’s method adds the ability to recognize the presence of antibodies. The identification and measurement of antibodies is a crucial step in diagnosing and treating disease. Antibody levels are also a factor when calculating the dosage of therapeutic drugs.
With DNA nano-computers able to detect and measure antibodies while performing complex analyses, researchers are hopeful machines can be programmed to carry out actions in response to certain measurements. Merkx’s team successfully used DNA computing to control the activity of enzymes. The professor believes it is possible to apply this technique to therapeutic antibodies. This should result in better absorption of therapeutic substances. When used as a delivery system, these computers will be able to decide how much medicine to release into the bloodstream, based on the antibodies in the bloodstream.
Future Applications in the Treatment of Chronic Disease
Researchers are working on ways to use the technology in the fight against chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. These conditions are often treated with the same drugs. The dosage is dependent on the condition it is meant to treat. Smart drugs would be able to deliver the most accurately therapeutic dose of medication. This would allow for more effective treatment. It would also reduce the overall cost of treatment and reduce side effects.
Wouter Engelen, Lenny H. H. Meijer, Bram Somers, Tom F. A. de Greef, Maarten Merkx. Antibody-controlled actuation of DNA-based molecular circuits. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 14473 DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS14473