Futurists have long speculated that nanotechnology — the engineering of materials and devices at the molecular scale — will eventually revolutionize virtually every field it touches. While we're not there yet, we're reminded every once in a while of the tremendous potential that nanotechnology holds, especially when it comes to medicine.
One of these reminders came today in the form of report that described a breakthrough in which tiny implantable capsules were embedded with genetic instructions for producing drug-building proteins. The technique could eventually result in mechanisms to synthesize and deliver drugs inside your body.
These "nanofactories" mimic the protein-making processes found in living cells — the same kind of proteins that are found in a number of medicines. But these medicines would be highly customized, in order to take advantage of the latest that science has to offer — and to deliver them to the body in an unprecedented way.
Nanotechnologist Daniel Anderson and his colleagues at MIT published their findings in the journal Nano Letters, where they described how they were able to trigger protein production by shining laser light on the micro-machines. The nanofactories themselves consist of lipid sacs filled with the cellular machinery responsible for reading and translating the instructions, including amino acids, ribosomes, and DNA caged with a light-sensitive material.
This breakthrough could potentially allow doctors to produce medicines that don't need to be administered orally — or which could be harmful to other parts of your body. Also, the spherical-shaped micro-machines could rest idle in the body, waiting for an external command or internal trigger to execute their DNA encoded program.
Given the proof of concept, the researchers are hoping to synthesize cancer drugs and develop other ways of triggering the protein production.
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Images via MIT.