WATCH: DNA nanoswitches change shape in the presence of biomarkers. The shape change is revealed in a process called gel electrophoresis. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University
“Nanoswitches” — engineered, shape-changing strands of DNA — could shake up the way we monitor our health, according to new research. Faster, easier, cheaper and more sensitive tests based on these tools — used in the lab or at point of care — could indicate the presence of disease, infection and even genetic variabilities as subtle as a single-gene mutation.
“One critical application in both basic research and clinical practice is the detection of biomarkers in our bodies, which convey vital information about our current health,” says lead researcher Wesley Wong, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine (PCMM). “However, current methods tend to be either cheap and easy or highly sensitive, but generally not both.”
What if we could deliver biocompatible nanoparticles into the body and then activate them to release drugs exactly where they are needed, without causing side effects elsewhere?
Scientists like Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital, are developing nanoscale drug delivery systems to do just that, using a variety of materials and triggers that are sensitive to a range of specific stimuli.
“Triggerable drug delivery systems could improve the treatment of many diseases by reducing side effects and increasing the effectiveness of therapeutics,” says Kohane, who directs the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at Boston Children’s. He is the senior author on a recent article about the topic in Nature Reviews Materials.
One potential use of nanoscale drug delivery systems is of special interest to Kohane and his lab members …
John Kheir, MD, first envisioned an injectable form of oxygen eight years ago, the night one of his patients, a nine-month-old girl, died after catastrophic lung failure. Kheir, a cardiac intensive care specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, spoke last night to WBZ-TV’s Mallika Marshall, MD, about his efforts to try to buy precious time for children whose lungs stop working:
Good things, including therapeutics, can come in small packages—and increasingly this means nano-sized packages. For a sense of the scale of these diminutive tools, a strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter.
Vector’s new sister publication, Innovation Insider, looks at the promise and challenges of nanomedicine—both technical and regulatory. Read more about nanoscissors, theranostics, quantum dots and how the future is nano.
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Part of the problem is that the methods available for treating sepsis aren’t particularly good. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria, but that still leaves bacterial debris floating in the bloodstream, fueling the already over-excited inflammatory response.
Removing the bacteria altogether—as fast as possible—would be the better solution. At least that’s what Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, thinks. His lab at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Division of Critical Care Medicine has developed a new approach that combines magnetic nanoparticles, a synthetic molecule (called bis-Zn-DPA) that binds to the bacteria, and magnetized microfluidic devices to pull bacteria from the blood quickly and efficiently. …
At the start of the 2009 Star Trek reboot (this is relevant, trust me), the USS Kelvin’s captain meets the enemy on their ship to try to negotiate a cease-fire. His crew uses a kind of sensing technology to track his vital signs—like heart rate, breathing, body temperature—right up to the moment of his untimely demise.
While we’re not quite up to the technology level of the Star Trek universe, the ability to remotely sense what’s going on in tissues and organs is something of a holy grail for bioengineers. This is especially true for artificial or engineered organs: If you’d grown a new kidney for a patient needing a transplant, for example, you’d want some way to monitor it and make sure it’s working properly. It’s something that the body does naturally, but that bioengineers have struggled to replicate. …
It was an ordinary Saturday night in the ICU at Boston Children’s, in the fall of 2006. One of my patients was a 9-month-old girl who was admitted with pneumonia, and was having trouble breathing. I had gone in to check on her just a few minutes before; although she was not feeling well, she reached out and touched my hand as I examined her. I assured her mother she was in the best possible place for her care.
Five minutes later, the code bell alarmed. Our team rushed into her room to the most horrific sight I have ever seen. …
Recent research on Type 1 diabetes has begun focusing on prevention: Studies indicate that children start developing diabetes-related autoantibodies sometimes years before they develop clinical diabetes requiring insulin shots. The autoantibodies are an indicator of insulitis – a precursor condition in which the insulin-producing islets in the pancreas become inflamed and infiltrated with white blood cells.
In animal models, immune-suppressing drugs have been shown to blunt this attack by curbing the number of white blood cells circulating in the body. That reduces the need for insulin treatment – but at a high cost: Given systemically, the high doses needed to suppress the immune attack cause kidney toxicity, reduce the ability to fight infections, and decrease the body’s ability to respond to insulin.
People who have had a heart attack or have coronary artery disease often sustain damage that weakens their heart. Milder forms of heart failure can be treated with medications, but advanced heart dysfunction requires surgery or heart transplant. A team of physicians, engineers and materials scientists at Children’s Hospital Boston and MIT offers two alternative ways to strengthen weakened, scarred heart tissue — both involving nanotechnology.
One approach blends nanotechnology with tissue engineering to create a heart patch laced with gold whose cells all beat in time – as shown in the above video.
The other uses minute nanoparticles that can find their way to dying heart tissue, carrying stem cells, growth factors, drugs and other therapeutic compounds. …