Researchers at Childrens Hospital Boston have developed a new nanobiotechnology that enables magnetic control of events at the cellular level. They describe the technology, which could lead to finely-tuned but noninvasive treatments for disease, in the January issue of Nature Nanotechnology (published online January 3).
Don Ingber, MD, PhD, and Robert Mannix, PhD, of Childrens program in Vascular Biology, in collaboration with Mara Prentiss, PhD, a physicist at Harvard University, devised a way to get tiny beads 30 nanometers (billionths of a meter) in diameter to bind to receptor molecules on the cell surface. When exposed to a magnetic field, the beads themselves become magnets, and pull together through magnetic attraction. This pull drags the cells receptors into large clusters, mimicking what happens when drugs or other molecules bind to them. This clustering, in turn, activates the receptors, triggering a cascade of biochemical signals that influence different cell functions.
The technology could lead to non-invasive ways of controlling drug release or physiologic processes such as heart rhythms and muscle contractions, says Ingber, the studys senior investigator. More importantly, it represents the first time magnetism has been used to harness specific cellular signaling systems normally used by hormones or other natural molecules.
This technology allows us to control the behavior of living cells through magnetic forces rather than chemicals or hormones, says Ingber. It may provide a new way to interface with machines or computers in the future, opening up entirely new ways of controlling drug delivery, or making detectors that have living cells as component parts. Weve harnessed a biological control system, but we can control it at will, using magnetic forces.
In a demonstration involving mast cells (a kind of cell in the immune system), Ingber and Mannix showed that the beads, when bound to cell receptors and expo
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Children's Hospital Boston