Intracellular Cancer Detecting and Destroying Biological Computer Created

Scientists at ETH Zurich and MIT have collaborated to create the first prototype of what will undoubtedly become the new frontier for medical technology.

They have designed a biological computer than functions within a single cell.

The system is a simple circuit that has detectors capable of sensing the presence of molecules within the cell than would increase in concentration under circumstance where the cell has turned cancerous.  The circuit then uses a logical structure to determine if a sufficient number and combination of these substances are detected to indicate a high probability of cancer.  If the computer concludes the cell is likely cancerous it then triggers a response leading to the death of the cell.

To achieve this unfathomably important result the researchers fabricated the biological computer to detect an array of 5 possible RNA snips that code for cancer-related molecules.  They placed the computers in a population of laboratory cancer cells called HeLa and several non-HeLa control cell lines and were able to show the computers effectively killed only  the HeLa cancercells.

The computers were made out of DNA and were transfected into the cells using viruses.  They killed he cells through activation of a gene that makes a protein which causes the cell to die (apoptosis).

The researchers concluded:

“We show that synthetic biological networks can trigger programmed biological actuation when complex intracellular conditions are detected. The results suggest potential therapeutic usage for the circuit, provided that challenges such as efficient in vivo DNA delivery to cells are overcome.”
The implications of this early stage research are profound.  In the future such biocomputers could be delivered to all dividing cells in the body constantly monitoring for myriad problems including cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.  These computers could be designed to both kill the cell in question as well as send out a detectable signal indicating a cancer cell has been detected.
Further down the line such systems could be designed to repair cells on the fly and even prevent or reverse the effects of aging.
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via (MIT) and (KurzweilAI)

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