DNA origami is not just a fun scientific hobby but is becoming a powerful way to manipulate biological processes at a basic level. Researchers at Ohio State University are now using DNA to wrap a common cancer drug in order to deliver it safely into leukemia cells that had become resistant to it. The technique may lead to a generalized solution to overcoming drug resistance, or at least with respect to certain types of cancer. So far this technology has been tried within cancer cells ex vivo, and the researchers are now trying it on mice. The hope is that within the next few years the results of the research will lead to in-human clinical trials.
In the current research. cells of acute myeloid leukemia were used that were resistant to daunorubicin. When the drug enters these cells, they push the medication out before is it able to do much harm. To help sneak the daunorubicin into the cell and make it stay there, tiny bits of the compound were wrapped within DNA nanostructures that could be created to have specific properties. By fine tuning the shape and stiffness of the DNA origami wrap, the team was able to achieve optimal penetration of the cellular walls and to bring the drug deep inside.
A rotating view of a single drug-resistant leukemia cell, after it’s absorbed DNA nanostructures. Fluorescent markers show that the nanostructures have been taken deep into the cell, into the organelles that will digest them:
In this time-lapse image, drug-resistant leukemia cells glow with fluorescent markers as they absorb DNA nanostructures containing the drug daunorubicin. Within 15 hours after absorbing the nanostructures, the cells begin to disintegrate (starting with the one in the lower left).