University of Florida researchers have developed a “DNA nanotrain” that fast-tracks its payload of cancer-fighting drugs and bioimaging agents to tumor cells deep within the body. The nanotrain’s ability to cost-effectively deliver high doses of drugs to precisely targeted cancers and other medical maladies without leaving behind toxic nano-clutter has been the elusive Holy Grail for scientists studying the teeny-tiny world of DNA nanotechnology.
“Most nanotechnology relies on a nanoparticle approach, and the particles are made of inorganic materials; after they’ve been used as a carrier for the drug, they’ll be left inside the body,” said the study’s lead investigator, Weihong Tan, a UF distinguished professor of chemistry, professor of physiology and functional genomics, and a member of the UF Shands Cancer Center and the UF Genetics Institute. “Compared to existing nanostructures, our nanotrain is easier and cheaper to make, is highly specific to cancer cells, has a lot of drug-loading power and is very much biocompatible.”
DNA nanotechnology holds great promise as a new way to deliver chemotherapy directly to cancer cells, but until now, scientists have not been able to direct nanotherapies to consistently differentiate cancer cells from healthy ones. Other limiting factors include high costs, too-small amounts of drugs delivered and potential toxic side effects.