DNA origami may help with drug delivery


  • Carrie Printz

Tapping into the ancient art of origami, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, have developed a technique that may ultimately lead to custom made biomedical nanodevices to deliver drugs into patients' cells.

Describing their work in Nature, the researchers folded sheets of DNA into multilayered objects that are thousands of times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.1 The advantage of themultilayered structures is that scientists can make customized DNA objects in any 3-dimensional shape. They are more rigid and stable than single-layer DNA structures, which scientists created previously, according to William Shih, PhD, senior author of the study and a researcher in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's cancer biology program.

Using long DNA molecules as a building component, Dr. Shih and his colleagues constructed objects such as a genie bottle, 2 kinds of crosses, a square nut, and a railed bridge. Scientists hope to use these structures to mimic some of the “machines” in cells that perform important duties such as forming containers for molecules and moving them to various locations.

“This is something nature is very good at—making complex machines with great control,” Dr. Shih noted in a Dana-Farber news release. “Nature optimizes cellular technology through millions of years of evolution; we don't have that much time, so we need to come up with other design approaches.”

The “machines” they hope to create could act as navigation aids for medicines, helping them to cross biologic barriers or avoid mechanisms that are trying to remove them from the bloodstream, Dr. Shih notes, adding that the technology also could assist with diagnostics.


1. Douglas SM, Dietz H, Liedl T, Högberg B, Graf F, Shih WM. Self-assembly of DNA into nanoscale three dimensional shapes. Nature. 2009;459:414–418.