Israeli team advances genetic device to perform DNA diagnosis

Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science took a big step recently toward advancing the idea of a nano-sized biological device that can travel through the body, detect disease and treat it on the spot by releasing a targeted treatment. Details are published in Nature's Scientific Reports.

Call it a first step, at least. Researchers there developed a genetic device that can function in bacterial cells on its own, made of a DNA sequence with preprogrammed parameters. It's designed to look for changes in transcription factors, proteins that regulate cellular gene expression. That's a good diagnostic target, because if those proteins face disruption, cells can divide more rapidly and cancer can be the end result.

And so the researchers' tiny, experimental device was promising, at least in early lab testing. It evaluated the transcription factors and if results match preprogrammed parameters, the device indicated a "positive" by generating a green light.

Again, it's a wonderful first step. And the Weizmann team is already moving ahead to the next. Their new goal: To move beyond green light. Instead, they want to see if their tiny device can work with another kind of protein that would cause the detected cell to self-destruct, with the idea that it could be someday used to make cells "positively diagnosed" with a disease destroy themselves. Their work is a long way from bringing a functional, microscopic biological diagnostic to market. And much more laboratory testing will be needed before human trials can even begin. But first steps often produce astounding results in the end, so the Weizmann work will be worth watching as it continues to evolves.

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