"Our ability to perform that 'surgical strike' with nanoscale devices will ultimately allow us to do so in a way that's safe for the patient," Douglas said.
In the lab, their nano-robot successfully blew up lymphoma and leukemia cells, leaving good cells alone. Doing one of these reactions typically requires 100 billion copies of the robot. In order to start testing their creation on animals, the Harvard postdocs will have to figure out how to scale up to trillions.
Although the nano-robot works in a Petri dish, it will have to be redesigned for a trip through the bloodstream, Douglas said. Modifications are necessary to prevent the particle from getting cleared out by the kidneys or the liver before it has a chance to perform.
"My dream is for one of these devices to ultimately go through clinical trials and become an actual therapeutic that would be a novel treatment for some type of cancer," Douglas said.
Kurt Gothelf is a professor of chemistry at Aarhus University in Denmark, and the director of the Danish National Research Foundation's Center for DNA Nanotechnology. He and his colleagues made the self-assembling nanoscale DNA box with a lid in 2009.