Researchers from Parabon NanoLabs have developed a new drug for combating a lethal brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme. But what makes this particular drug unique is that it was printed — molecule by molecule — using a DNA self-assembly technique. And even more remarkable is that the DNA was custom designed with a drag-and-drop computer program. The breakthrough will not only drastically reduce the time it takes to both create and test medications, it will also open the door to completely novel drug designs.
The new technology, which was in part funded by the National Science Foundation, is called the Parabon Essemblix Drug Development Platform, and it combines computer-aided design (CAD) software called inSçquio with nanoscale fabrication technology.
"What differentiates our nanotechnology from others is our ability to rapidly, and precisely, specify the placement of every atom in a compound that we design, " said lead investigator Steven Armentrout through the NSF's official release.
The inSçquio software allowed the scientists to design molecular pieces with specific, functional components. They then optimized their designs using a cloud supercomputing platform called the Parabon Computation Grid that searches for sets of DNA sequences that can self-assemble its new components.
To design the compounds, the researchers applied their knowledge of the cell receptors they were targeting or the biological pathways they were trying to affect. And they did so by applying the principles of basic chemistry to explore the space of all possible assemblies. Consequently, the process was very deliberate and methodical, what the researchers say is unique in the drug development industry.
And to hasten the drug production process, the researches took their new sequences and chemically synthesized trillions of identical copies of the designed molecules. So, in a matter of weeks — and sometimes days — the developers produced their drugs. The technique is considerably faster than traditional drug discovery techniques — many of which simply utilize trial-and-error screening.
Looking forward, Parabon is hoping to develop synthetic vaccines for biodefense and gene therapies that can target disease (what will be based on information from an individual's genome). And interestingly, the technology may be usable outside of medicine; future applications could also include the development of nanoscale logic gates, devices critical for computing, and molecular nanosensors.
All images via Parabon.