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DNA-based Nanorobots Study Mechanical-Chemical Communication of Cancer Cells

By Dr. Shawn Goussous, Chief Scientist at NanoCube


Cancer involves dysfunction of the way that cells respond to mechanical forces. Cells are sensitive to mechanical forces and use special receptors called 'mechanoreceptors' to convert these forces into biological signals. These signals are essential for many cellular processes and play a role in the normal functioning of the body, as well as in the development of diseases such as cancer.


In cancer, for example, cancer cells use mechanoreceptors to detect and adapt to the mechanical properties of their microenvironment, allowing them to migrate within the body.


However, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in this process is limited.


While existing technologies can apply controlled forces to study these mechanisms, they are expensive and cannot be used to study multiple receptors at the same time, making it difficult to collect large amounts of data.

Scientists from Inserm, CNRS and Université de Montpellier have developed a nanorobot called the "Nano-winch" that is made of DNA origami structures.


A. Mills, et. al., “A modular spring-loaded actuator for mechanical activation of membrane proteins”, Nature Communications, 2022.


The nanorobot can be used to apply and control a force with a resolution of 1 piconewton, or one trillionth of a Newton (One Newton corresponds to the force of a finger clicking on a pen) to specific mechanoreceptors on cell membranes. This allows researchers to study cellular mechanical processes, such as mechanotransduction, which is the process by which cells convert mechanical forces into biological signals.


This allowed the researchers to collect information about the mechanical-chemical communication of cancer cells, which can be used to control their growth.

The Nano-winch is easy to assemble and can be used to manipulate multiple mechanoreceptors at once. It can operate in autonomous and remotely activated modes, allowing for greater control and precision.


This innovation has the potential to improve our understanding of mechanotransduction and its role in various biological processes.

The researchers behind the Nano-winch believe that their nanorobot represents a major technological advance. However, the nanorobot's biocompatibility, while an advantage for in vivo applications, may also be a weakness as it is sensitive to enzymes that can degrade DNA.


The researchers plan to study ways to modify the surface of the nanorobot to make it less sensitive to enzymes, and to explore other modes of activation such as using a magnetic field.




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