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Programming Cells to Perform Disease-Fighting Computations

March 30, 2013, 12:00 PM

What's the Latest Development?

By building circuits out of DNA and cellular proteins, researchers at Stanford have found a way to program the body's cells with logic functions, similar to how computer chips work on larger scales. "It works by making changes to the cell’s genome, creating a kind of transcript of the cell’s activities that can be read out later with a DNA sequencer." Drew Endy, bioengineering professor at Stanford, said: "We want to make tools to put computers inside any living cell—a little bit of data storage, a way to communicate, and logic."

What's the Big Idea?

Biologists expect that if the body's cellular functions can be controlled in ways similar to computer code, the production of essential disease-fighting antibodies could be regulated. "Cells genetically programmed with a biological 'AND' gate might, for instance, be used to detect and treat cancer. If protein A and protein B are present—where those proteins are characteristic of, say, breast cancer—then this could trigger the cell to produce protein C, a drug." The researchers' ultimate goal is to make cells that perform computations analogous to those of microchips. 

Read it at MIT Technology Review

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