August 26, 2016

Thought-Controlled Nanoscale DNA Robots in a Living Host

Ido Bachelet and his team have made a new type of brain-machine interface enabling a human operator to control nanometer-size robots inside a living animal by brain activity. Recorded EEG patterns are recognized online by an algorithm, which in turn controls the state of an electromagnetic field. The field induces the local heating of billions of mechanically-actuating DNA origami robots tethered to metal nanoparticles, leading to their reversible activation and subsequent exposure of a bioactive payload. As a proof of principle we demonstrate activation of DNA robots to cause a cellular effect inside the insect Blaberus discoidalis, by a cognitively straining task. This technology enables the online switching of a bioactive molecule on and off in response to a subject’s cognitive state, with potential implications to therapeutic control in disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, and attention deficits, which are among the most challenging conditions to diagnose and treat.

Ido Bachelet had previously made 50 nanometer DNA buckets that would open when it encountered certain chemicals or biology.

To establish a direct control interface to DNA robots, they designed robots that can be electronically remote-controlled. This was done by adding metal nanoparticles to the robotic gates, which could heat in response to an electromagnetic field. This concept has been demonstrated previously, and has been recently implemented in controlling gene expression in an animal model of diabetes.

In the paper they integrate all components to allow EEG patterns associated with cognitive states to remotely trigger nanorobot activation in a living animal, and describe the design, construction, and implementation of this brain-nanomachine interface. Our working prototype highlights the potential of such a technology in managing disorders to which no effective treatment exists, and could inspire advanced modes of control over biological molecules in the body even outside therapeutic contexts.

The full experimental setup consisted of five components:
a) a headset used for collecting EEG data from the subject;
b) an algorithm that searches for patterns associated with cognitive load and rest states, running on a computer;
c) a waveform generator, remote controlled by the computer, which produces high-frequency alternate current through the coil; d) the coil itself; and
e) the DNA origami robots, injected into the living animal fitted within the coil.

Data collection was carried out separately from this setup, and included only the headset connected to a computer

They built nanorobots out of DNA, forming shell-like shapes that drugs can be tethered to. Because the drug remains tethered to the DNA parcel, a body’s exposure to the drug can be controlled by closing and opening the gate.

DNA bots to respond to a person’s thoughts. They trained a computer algorithm to identify between a person’s brain activity when resting and when doing mental arithmetic.

They attached a fluorescent drug to the bots and injected them into a cockroach sat inside an electromagnetic coil. A person wearing an EEG cap that measures brain activity was then instructed either to do mental calculations, or rest. The cap was connected to the electromagnetic coil, switching it on when the man was calculating and off when he was resting.

BCI (Brain computer interface) technology is becoming more widespread and accessible, so are heart monitoring applications for mobile devices, and in the future even parameters such as blood glucose.

The present study is merely a demonstration and proof of concept for integrating physiological output with molecular control. And here is also the value of this work–in our hope that it will highlight the possibility for such new therapeutic strategies, and encourage building on such drafts in order to achieve optimal designs.

Albeit a very preliminary prototype, this system could inspire improved designs towards thought-mediated control over biochemical and physiological functions assisted by biocompatible molecular machines.

SOURCE- PLOS One, New Scientist

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