This release is available in German.
Researchers led by ETH professor Yaakov Benenson and MIT professor Ron Weiss have successfully incorporated a diagnostic biological "computer" network in human cells. This network recognizes certain cancer cells using logic combinations of five cancer-specific molecular factors, triggering cancer cells destruction.
Yaakov (Kobi) Benenson, Professor of Synthetic Biology at ETH Zurich, has spent a large part of his career developing biological computers that operate in living cells. His goal is to construct biocomputers that detect molecules carrying important information about cell wellbeing and process this information to direct appropriate therapeutic response if the cell is found to be abnormal. Now, together with MIT professor Ron Weiss and a team of scientists including post-doctoral scholars Zhen Xie and Liliana Wroblewska, and a doctoral student Laura Prochazka, they made a major step towards reaching this goal. In a study that has just been published in Science, they describe a multi-gene synthetic "circuit" whose task is to distinguish between cancer and healthy cells and subsequently target cancer cells for destruction. This circuit works by sampling and integrating five intracellular cancer-specific molecular factors and their concentration. The circuit makes a positive identification only when all factors are present in the cell, resulting in a highly precise cancer detection. Researchers hope that it can serve a basis for very specific anti-cancer treatments.
Selective destruction of cancer cells
The scientists tested the gene network in two types of cultured human cells: cervical cancer cells, called HeLa cells, and normal cells. When the genetic bio-computer was introduced into the different cell types, only HeLa cells, but not the healthy ones, were destroyed.
|Contact: Kobi Benenson|
ETH Zurich/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology