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Profiler at the Cellular Level

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Cell computer

The wiring diagram of the cellular computer. All five factors must be in their correct state in order to trigger cell death.

Credit: Courtesy of Y. Benenson and R. Weiss

Researchers at ETH Zurich and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a diagnostic biological computer in human cells that can recognize certain cancer cells using logic combinations of five cancer-specific molecular factors.

The researchers, led by ETH professor Yaakov Benenson and MIT professor Ron Weiss, developed a multi-gene synthetic circuit designed to distinguish between cancer and healthy cells, targeting the cancer cells for destruction. The circuit works by sampling and integrating five intracellular cancer-specific molecular factors and their concentration. When all five factors are present in a cell, the circuit makes a positive identification and starts the cell-destruction process.

The researchers hope that their technique can be the basis for very specific anti-cancer treatments. They tested the gene network on cervical cancer cells and healthy cells, and found that the system only destroyed the cervical cancer cells.

The five distinguishing factors are based on the cell's microRNA. The microRNA factors "are combined using logic operations such as AND and NOT, and the network only generates the required outcome, namely cell death, when the entire calculation with all the factors results in a logical TRUE value," Benenson says.

From ETH Life
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