Iowa State University Develops Nano-Machines for Medical Diagnoses


Michael Crichton, a well-known techno-thriller author, wrote some books about the uses of nano-technology.

In his novel “Prey”, his characters do battle with lethal nano-bots, which are small enough to destroy structures and human bodies from the inside out.

While Crichton’s books are fiction, a recent achievement by the scientists at Iowa State University is not.

Eric Henderson, a professor of genetics, development, and cell biology at ISU, along with his colleague Divita Mathur, studied how nano-machines could be used for real-world medical applications.

In an article, “Programmable DNA Nanosystem for Molecular Integration”, which they published in Scientific Reports, the two scientists describe how they were able to develop a nano-machine that could detect a mock-up of an Ebola virus.

“It’s the magic of how DNA works,” Henderson said.

Henderson continued to describe how valuable nano-technology could be in medical diagnoses of illnesses, especially ones that have no cure if not prevented from spreading at an earlier stage.

According to the professor, their nano-machine can be reproduced quickly and cheaply.

It even has the potential to be used as an app in a smart phone or other devices, making it much easier for people to use to detect diseases and pathogens without the need for traditional and more expensive facilities.

It sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi novel, but if this could be done, it would change the name of the game when it comes to medical diagnosis and even treatment.

Henderson said that all it took was to understand how DNA works.

“It’s possible to exploit that rule set in a way that creates advantages for medicine and biotechnology.”

The two scientists used the way DNA strands bind with each other to develop their nano-device. One strand of our DNA will bind with only a complementary side.

These strands automatically find each other, like building blocks magnetically connecting to form a castle.

The components of the nano-machine, once added to water, then heated and cooled, will find each other like magnets and link with each other. They will then automatically create the nano-machine without any more control from outside forces.

The machine is so small that about 40 billion of these devices can fit into a single drop of water.

Although the scientists performed their experiment with only a mock version of the Ebola virus, they were able to prove the possibility of their device being used to spot maladies and pathogens.

Henderson used a photonic system that tests for the presence of the target molecules – in their case, the Ebola virus.

“If the machines sniff out what they’re looking for, the photonic system flashes a light, which can be detected with a machine called a fluorometer.”

In their paper, the scientists call their “self-assembling DNA nanosystem” as OPTIMuS (Oligo-Propelled Technology for Interrogating Molecular Systems).

Henderson said that it would not be far from reality where anyone with this technology could spot a disease or virus, prevent it from spreading to the rest of the body, and alert authorities to providing immediate medical attention or treatment quickly.

These nano-machines, built from the DNA, would themselves guide the medication to its target.

Rob Clark admin staff managing editor

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