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DNA Robot Could Deliver Cancer Drugs

Biomolecular machines might someday make you well without you ever knowing you were sick

3 min read

22 December 2010—This situation occurs far too often: A person arrives at his doctor’s office complaining of some unknown ailment, only to find out that cancer has invaded his body and that it is too late for any of the standard treatments to work. But a group of scientists dream that cancer and other maladies could be diagnosed and treated without the person ever knowing anything had been amiss. The scientists, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in Israel, the University of Liege, in Belgium, and the University of California, Los Angeles, say they have built a molecular machine out of DNA that could act as a logic device for chemical sensing and medicine delivery. Unlike earlier DNA machines, the new device has a degree of memory, making it potentially programmable.

 The machine comprises three DNA "tweezers." These molecular mechanisms, which have been around for a decade, take advantage of the mechanical properties of and the chemical bonding relationships between DNA’s four bases—adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. It is possible to connect strands of these bases to create two rigid arms with a flexible hinge between them. Scientists already know that when a strand is added that bridges the arms of a tweezer, the new strand pulls the arms together, closing the tweezer. An additional nucleic acid acts as an anti-linker, stripping away the DNA strand and reopening the tweezer.

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How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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