May 25, 2024

Advancements in Global DNA Nanotechnology: From Molecular Machines to Targeted Therapies

Global Advancements in DNA Nanotechnology


DNA nanotechnology is an emerging field that holds immense promise to revolutionize industries ranging from healthcare to computing. By programming DNA to self-assemble into desired geometric shapes and architectures at the nanoscale, scientists are unlocking new possibilities for targeted drug delivery, molecular circuitry and much more. In this article, we explore some of the major global advancements that are bringing DNA nanotechnology closer to commercialization and real-world applications.


Building Molecular Machines


One of the most exciting applications of DNA nanotechnology is in the creation of molecular machines – structures that can move, sense and respond to stimuli at the nanoscale. Researchers from ETH Zurich recently developed molecular robots out of DNA that are only a few nanometers in size but can walk, switch shapes and carry out logical computations. Using a ‘patch and plug’ mechanism, they were able to program the robots’ movements and logic behaviors. Other notable work includes DNA tweezers developed at TU Delft that can grasp and release nanoparticles with precision, and DNA origami tweezers from University of Wollongong that can fold into different grasping positions through chemical triggers. These molecular machines hold promise for targeted drug delivery, sensing, nanomedicine and more.

Scientists from University of Milan took molecular machines a step further by developing the world’s first programmable molecular assembly line made from DNA. Like an industrial assembly line, it has specific workstations that carry out sequential operations to automatically produce target DNA nanostructures. This breakthrough could enable mass production of customized nanoscale devices and molecules. Recently, researchers from University of Glasgow developed the world’s first molecular conveyor belt made of DNA that can transport cargo molecules with high programmability and precision. Such advancements are bringing the vision of targeted, automated molecular manufacturing closer to reality.


Targeted Therapies and Drug Delivery


One area that could see huge benefits from DNA nanotechnology is targeted drug delivery for cancer treatment and other diseases. Researchers from McMaster University developed DNA origami carriers that can encapsulate drug payloads and selectively deliver them to tumor cells through molecular tags. They showed up to 10 times higher drug accumulation in tumors compared to conventional treatments. Scientists from TU Delft went a step further by developing DNA nanorobots that can navigate through blood vessels, identify target cancer cells using biomarkers and inject drug payloads directly inside cells. Such advanced, self-guided delivery systems could achieve more targeted therapies with fewer side effects.

Other researchers developed DNA nanocages that only release drug contents in response to specific proteases overexpression in cancer sites. This provides a safe, controlled release mechanism triggered by the disease microenvironment. Additionally, DNA origami templates created by scientists at University College London enabled the stable and selective attachment of multiple chemotherapeutics, achieving a multi-drug nanoplatform for combinational therapies. As these delivery systems advance, we may see safer, more effective cancer treatments reaching patients sooner. DNA nanotechnology also shows promise for targeted delivery of gene therapies and antivirals.


Molecular Computing and Sensing


Closely related to molecular machines and drug delivery is the field of molecular circuits and sensing using DNA nanotechnology. Researchers from ETH Zurich developed the first molecular transistor made entirely from DNA, demonstrating Boolean logic gates and signal amplification at the nanoscale. Its operation was based on controlling the conductivity of DNA double helixes through chemical triggers. Meanwhile, scientists from University of Milan created the first integrated logic circuits made of DNA that could autonomously perform complex combinational logic functions.

Other notable works include molecular sensors from University of Toronto that can visually signal the presence of target disease biomarkers by changing color, and programmable molecular sensors from University of Southern California that report analyte concentrations through fluorescence intensity variations. Looking ahead, we may see integrated molecular circuits performing logical computations, disease diagnostics directly from patient samples, environmental monitoring at remote locations and more. When coupled with the advancing fields of molecular robotics and manufacturing, DNA based molecular circuits hold promise to power future molecular computers, nanobiosensors and personalized diagnostics.

The past decade has seen tremendous advancements in DNA nanotechnology across multiple areas including molecular machines, targeted drug delivery, molecular computing and sensing. Global research efforts are bringing closer the visions of programmable molecular assemblers, modular biomanufacturing processes, personalized nanomedicine treatments and point-of-care molecular diagnostics. Further progress will unlock new solutions that may transform biotechnology, healthcare, materials science and many more industries. While challenges remain in translating these lab-scale works to real-world products and applications, DNA nanotechnology is surely one of the most promising fields that will shape science and technology in the coming decades.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it