Outliers has learned of another reason to be impressed by those intricate little birds of prey and other animals that origami masters are so fond of creating: It seems the art of folding could hold the key to cutting-edge cancer treatment.
Like origami artists who fold a single piece of paper to form beautifully detailed models of animals, people and other objects, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston have found a way to fold sheets of DNA into multilayered objects with dimensions thousands of times smaller than a human hair. Scientists are hoping to use the structures to create custom-made nanodevices that could sneak drugs into patients cells and treat specific molecular targets, according to a study appearing in the May 21 issue of the journal Nature.
To date, researchers have been able to fold DNA sheets into a variety of shapes, including a genie bottle, two types of crosses and a bridge with rails. That ability should allow scientists to design DNA origami structures into shapes that are ideal for delivering medicine to specific cells. The structures, about the size of a virus, could potentially be used as tiny machines that carry out specific disease-fighting functions within cells.
The advantage of the origamilike structures, according to the studys senior author William Shih, is that multilayered objects are better able to withstand the chaotic and violent intracellular environment.
In addition to cancer treatment, researchers think DNA origami might also prove useful as a diagnostic tool. While current laboratory tests can measure the concentration of different substances in the body, it may be possible with DNA to measure the concentration of something within a single cell, Shih says.