Biomolecular computer can autonomously sense multiple signs of disease

July 6, 2011 by Lisa Zyga feature
A simple scheme of how a biomolecular computer works. Image credit: Gil, et al. ©2011 American Chemical Society

( -- In the future, nano-sized computers implanted in the human body could autonomously scan for disease indicators, diagnose diseases, and control the release of the appropriate drugs. Although this scenario is still several decades away, researchers have been making significant progress in developing early types of biomolecular computers.

In a recent study published in , Computer Science Professor Ehud Shapiro and coauthors from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have developed a biomolecular computer that can autonomously sense many different types of molecules simultaneously. In the future, this sensing ability could be integrated with a vast biomedical knowledge of diseases to enable computers to decide which drugs to release.

“We envision nanometer-sized computing devices (made of biomolecules) to roam our bodies in search of diseases in their early stage,” coauthor Binyamin Gil from the Weizmann Institute of Science told “These devices would have the ability to sense indicators, diagnose the disease, and treat it by administering or activating a therapeutic biomolecule. They could be delivered to the bloodstream or operate inside cells of a specific organ or tissue and be given as a preventive care.”

The development builds on the researchers’ previous demonstration of a biomolecular computer that consists of a two-state system made of biological components ( and a restriction enzyme). The computer, which operates in vitro, starts from the Yes state. In each computation step, the computer checks one disease indicator. If all of the indicators for the tested disease are present, the computation ends in the Yes state, namely it makes a positive diagnosis; if at least one disease indicator is not detected, it ends in the No state.

Previously, Shapiro's group showed that this biomolecular computer could detect disease indicators from expression levels and mutations. In the current study, the researchers have expanded the computer’s ability to also detect disease indicators from miRNAs, proteins, and small molecules such as ATP. At the same time, the computer’s detection method is simpler than before, requiring fewer components and fewer interactions with the disease indicators.

As the researchers explain, sensing a combination of several disease indicators is much more useful than sensing just one, since it allows for better accuracy and greater sensitivity to differences between diseases. For example, they note that in the case of thyroid cancer, the presence of the protein thyroglobulin and the hormone calcitonin can enable a much more reliable diagnosis than if only one of these disease indicators was detected.

Although the ability to detect several disease indicators marks an important step toward in vivo biomolecular computers and programmable drugs, there are still many obstacles that researchers must overcome in the process.

“The biggest challenge is operating such devices in living surrounding like the blood stream or cell's cytoplasm,” Gil said. “Currently we are developing devices that rely on simpler machinery (e.g. no restriction enzyme) or on the cell's own machinery.”

Explore further: DNA computation gets logical

More information: Binyamin Gil, et al. “Detection of Multiple Disease Indicators by an Autonomous Biomolecular Computer.” Nano Letters DOI:10.1021/nl2015872


Related Stories

DNA computation gets logical

August 3, 2009

Biomolecular computers, made of DNA and other biological molecules, only exist today in a few specialized labs, remote from the regular computer user. Nonetheless, Tom Ran and Shai Kaplan, research students in the lab of ...

New sensor nanotechnology simplifies disease detection

October 4, 2010

Researchers at Stony Brook University have developed a new sensor nanotechnology that could revolutionize personalized medicine by making it possible to instantly detect and monitor disease by simply exhaling once into a ...

Looking for new source of cancer markers in blood

October 27, 2010

The future of cancer diagnosis may lie in just a few milliliters of blood, according to a research team led by Professor Arie Admon of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

New device may revolutionize computer memory

January 20, 2011

( -- Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new device that represents a significant advance for computer memory, making large-scale "server farms" more energy efficient and allowing ...

Student pursues breakthrough in supercomputing

June 29, 2011

A Northeastern University undergraduate is leading the development of a new process that will make it possible for certain supercomputers to save their data midway through a computation, preventing the loss of progress due ...

Recommended for you

Physicists develop new technique to fathom 'smart' materials

November 26, 2015

Physicists from the FOM Foundation and Leiden University have found a way to better understand the properties of manmade 'smart' materials. Their method reveals how stacked layers in such a material work together to bring ...

Mathematicians identify limits to heat flow at the nanoscale

November 24, 2015

How much heat can two bodies exchange without touching? For over a century, scientists have been able to answer this question for virtually any pair of objects in the macroscopic world, from the rate at which a campfire can ...

New sensor sends electronic signal when estrogen is detected

November 24, 2015

Estrogen is a tiny molecule, but it can have big effects on humans and other animals. Estrogen is one of the main hormones that regulates the female reproductive system - it can be monitored to track human fertility and is ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.1 / 5 (7) Jul 06, 2011
There is already some evidence of cancer in dogs that have had a microchip ID implanted. Even though this would be made of biological components, the body might recognize it as a foreign body. I would think some people would react with an autoimmune response or worse. A very risky business they're proposing. I prefer my diagnostic devices ex vivo.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 08, 2011
Several or three decades if you think in linear terms.
1 / 5 (3) Jul 08, 2011
I would think some people would react with an autoimmune response or worse. A very risky business they're proposing. I prefer my diagnostic devices ex vivo.

Autoimmune responses are for the most part fairly consistent. There are materials that may react, and there are some that definitely don't. The issue you mention is easy to work around, given the appropriate research, I wouldn't worry about it.
1.1 / 5 (7) Jul 08, 2011
There is no consistency whatsoever in one individual's response versus another's. Some patients have nearly died when getting a contrast dye for an MRI. Once I took a Celebrex and had an anaphylactic reaction where my hands became so swollen they looked like catcher's mitts, an inflammatory reaction to an anti-inflammatory. I have very good reason to worry.
not rated yet Jul 13, 2011
My ideas of how to design body-enhancing nanotechnology: http://episin.blo...-20.html

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.