SEP 04, 2017 6:20 PM PDT

Molecular Motors can Penetrate Specific Cellular Targets

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Researchers at Rice University have created motorized molecules that are activated by light and can drill through the membranes of cells. These nanomachines could be used to deliver therapeutic agents directly to cells, or in the case of tumor cells, induce them to die. The work was based on research by 2016 Nobel laureate Bernard Feringa, and uses a chain of atoms that form a structure in the shape of a paddle, and can move unidirectionally when fueled by light.

The project was led by chemists James Tour of Rice, Robert Pal of Durham University and Gufeng Wang of North Carolina State; it has been reported in the journal Nature. After teaming up to engineer motorized molecules that can target specific cells, they applied light activation to their system. Check out the video above to learn more.

“We thought it might be possible to attach these nanomachines to the cell membrane and then turn them on to see what happened,” said Tour. The motors are around one nanometer wide and can penetrate the lipid belayer of specific cells, either to deliver a drug payload or to disrupt the membrane enough for cell death. 

“These nanomachines are so small that we could park 50,000 of them across the diameter of a human hair, yet they have the targeting and actuating components combined in that diminutive package to make molecular machines a reality for treating disease,” Tour explained.

Successful testing indicated that the nanomachines needed more than one minute to move across the cell membrane. “It is highly unlikely that a cell could develop a resistance to molecular mechanical action,” noted Tour. 

“The researchers are already proceeding with experiments in microorganisms and small fish to explore the efficacy in-vivo,” Tour said. “The hope is to move this swiftly to rodents to test the efficacy of nanomachines for a wide range of medicinal therapies.”

After the Pal lab tested their invention on cells, including live human prostate cancer cells, the molecular motors were able to hone in on specific cells. Without an ultraviolet trigger, the machines remained on the surface of the targeted cells. After they were triggered, however, the machines penetrated the targeted cell membrane.

Prostate cancer cells, such as the ones in this image, might be targeted by these new molecular motors. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Griersonj5

Tests showed motors made to destroy prostate cancer cells broke through the membranes of these targets from outside, killing them within three minutes of activation, Pal explained. Video taken of the cells indicated an increase in blebbing or bubbling in the membrane within minutes of activation.

 

Sources: Rice University, Nature

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUN 09, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUN 09, 2020
The Key to Unlocking Next Generation Wearable Biosensors Is Under the Sea
Wearable biosensors are the latest trend in health and diagnostic technologies — keeping track of everything from ...
JUN 07, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JUN 07, 2020
An Imaging Tool That Could Speed the Diagnosis of Rare Diseases
When children have a rare genetic disease and do not have access to whole-genome sequencing and the analysis it requires ...
JUN 20, 2020
Immunology
JUN 20, 2020
A Cell's 450 Million Year Journey
Microglia make up just a fraction of all the cells in the brain, but play a vital role in removing pathogens or damaged ...
JUN 29, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JUN 29, 2020
New Insight Into the Loss of Neurons in Alzheimer's Disease
Researchers have been working to understand Alzheimer's disease for over 100 years. A major feature of the disease is th ...
JUL 02, 2020
Cardiology
JUL 02, 2020
Managing the Mitochondria After a Heart Attack
Heart attacks are an unfortunately common occurrence across the country. One of the biggest consequences of a heart atta ...
JUL 02, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
JUL 02, 2020
Common Asthma Drug Could Treat Alzheimer's
Researchers from Lancaster University, England, have found that Salbutamol, a medication commonly used to treat asthma, ...
Loading Comments...