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Biotech Medicine Science

Biological 'Logic Circuit' Destroys Cancer Cells 98

intellitech writes "Researchers led by ETH professor Yaakov Benenson and MIT professor Ron Weiss have successfully incorporated diagnostic biological information processing in human cells. In a study recently published in Science (abstract), they describe a multi-gene synthetic 'logic circuit' whose task is to distinguish between cancer and healthy cells, and subsequently target cancer cells for destruction. This circuit works by sampling and integrating five intracellular, cancer-specific molecular factors and their concentration. The circuit makes a positive identification only when all factors are present in the cell, resulting in highly precise cancer detection. Researchers hope it can serve a basis for very specific anti-cancer treatments."
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Biological 'Logic Circuit' Destroys Cancer Cells

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  • That is really cool.... it won't go terribly wrong, right?
    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      That is really cool.... it won't go terribly wrong, right?

      If it does, you'll die. Which you were going to do anyway.

      • until it learns to jump hosts... then we all die.

      • I imagine at least a few people considering euthanasia would jump on the chance to sign up for human trials for that reason. After all, if you're planning to die anyway, why not do it for science and the chance things might improve?

      • That is really cool.... it won't go terribly wrong, right?

        If it does, you'll die. Which you were going to do anyway.

        Couldn't that be used as an argument for doing every sort of crazy, dangerous, or bone-headed thing that crosses into people's mind? I mean, you're ALWAYS going to die eventually ...

        • You have a point! I'm off to wrestle that bear that's been bullying me for my lunch money. Will report back on my success later.

      • If it does, you'll die. Which you were going to do anyway.

        Not to sound like the Jim Morrisson downer in the room, but you ARE going to die. We are all on death row.

        Don't wait until a doctor reaffirms this fact to try and do the things that you consider fulfilling.

        • One is the fact that the "Man In Black" will be visiting you (unless you are immortal)

          the other is that the "Man In Black" has penciled you in for a date in the near future for his visit.

          but yes Live with as little fear as possible so that the record shows you had a WILD RIDE (and most likely skidded for a week afterwards).

    • Throughout human history, it has always been easier to kill someone with a new invention than to save someone. This may be the next generation of biological weapons.
      • I suspect there are far easier ways to kill someone than what they are doing.
      • Not sure if it's possible, but I could imagine someone creating a virus specifically targeting an individual based on their DNA. For example, we could all pass the virus and it would do nothing but replicate and infect eventually finding it's way to the intended programmed target. At this point, it drops it's deadly payload of instructions and kills the target. Basically, a tool of assassination. Of course, there's always that what-could-possibly-go-wrong moment and the damn thing mutates killing us all.

        • But it's easier and cheaper to shoot someone or arrange a car accident. The amount of research, time, money, skill, scientific advancement, and effort needed to create a logic circuit to differentiate between two related individuals is orders of magnitude higher than this experimental protocol, and even more orders of magnitude more expensive than a bullet.

          The molecular differences between individuals are both very slight and unbelievably numerous. The only way a logic circuit like this can work is if the

      • This is cancer treatment, but I agree: The ability to incorporate "logical" switches that react to markers in the DNA makes it suddenly possible to develop biological agents that are targeted towards specific subgroups of the human population.

        • well this is rather frightening to those groups like the the jewish rabbis of Ethiopia which have specific markers and most likely multiple hill tribes of the nepal. what next are we going to look for the slanted eye gene and kill all the Asians, or the green eye's with red hair and kill all the Irish, wait ... blue eye's and blond hair taking out the northern countries of Europe, or how about skin color gene,

          shit I don't even like the road this is taking.

        • This is a very valid concern. Right now, I just have to take comfort in the fact that the differences between populations are so subtle that a logic switch currently would have trouble differentiating the target group with sufficient specificity.

          Of course, this means that someone trying to target one ethnic group is potentially capable of accidentally killing even more people than they think. Like... everyone. The next Holocaust may very well be biological.

          Also, it should be possible to vaccinate against

  • I think we have all lost either a family member/friend/coworker to cancer. It seems they are making a lot of progress. Not long ago was the method to use reprogrammed safe HIV. I really hope cancer can take the polio route soon.
    • Ditto. I just have a feeling... similar to how I feel about recent advances in solar cell tech (etc)... We keep hearing about all these great innovations in the last few years, but so far none of them have translated into a "revolutionary" advance. I'd like to see something that actually gets "out of the lab" and into widespread use someday. Keeping fingers crossed...

      • Medical improvements take a long time from "discovery" to "buy it at Walgreens". The discoveries you hear about today won't translate into treatments for 10-20 years. But, progress is certainly being made (http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/survival/fiveyear/).

    • Not long ago was the method to use reprogrammed safe HIV.

      No, that was never the case. Please don't ever tell anyone about that again as you could not be much further from correct and still use the right words.

      HIV was used to modify white blood cells, which did the actual work.

      At no point does anyone get injected with HIV, nor does it being 'safe' have any actual bearing on it. You do not get an HIV injecting, you get seeded with your own modified white blood cells.

      Sorry to sound like an ass, but as long as people think OMG HIV!@$@!%!@% it'll be treated like nuc

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        I wonder where you would be if the people that taught you had better things to do then teach the ignorant?

        Because, you my friend, are also ignorant.

  • Sure hope they figure this out in the next 20 years so I can grow to be as old as a tree.
  • I'm not counting, how many prospective cancer cures this month? I'm rooting for every one, but still.
  • Yes, it's more impressive than an "OR" gate (which could simply be two different mechanisms that trigger the same effect), but the word Logic circuit just doesn't do it for me.

    You really want to impress me, show me an "XOR" - either of two indications, but not both.

  • Just based on the abstract, it sounds a lot like they've just tweaked the Cell cycle checkpoint [wikipedia.org] mechanism. Your cells already use MicroRNA and miRNA to prevent tumor growth in a sort of sensor-effector "logic circuit" based on multiple inputs and feedback.

    The abstract isn't clear enough about how this artificial process is different or constitutes a "logic circuit" that's novel relative to the natural mechanism. Not that it doesn't work better, but calling it a "logic circuit" seems sorta self-promoty, li

    • I realize that the abstract doesn't go into a lot of detail, but this is a piece from the introduction of the article that clarifies how this is a true logic circuit relying on 6 specific inputs to classify a cell as belonging to the targeted cell line (in this case, the common research model of HeLa).

      Here, we describe such a mechanism, a “classifier” gene circuit that integrates sensory information from a large number of molecular markers to determine whether a cell is in a specific state and, if so, produces a biologically active protein output. Specifically, when transiently expressed inside a cell our classifier ascertains whether the expression profile of six endogenous miRNAs (19) matches a predetermined reference profile characteristic of the HeLa cervical cancer cell line. A match identifies the cell as HeLa and triggers apoptosis .

      (Multi-Input RNAi-Based Logic Circuit for Identification of Specific Cancer Cells. Zhen Xie, Liliana Wroblewska, Laura Prochazka, Ron Weiss, and Yaakov Benenson. Science 2 September 2011: 333 (6047),

  • ..this reminds me of nanomachines from Cowboy Bebop: The Movie.
  • So, technically then, it would be possible to inject this into a common virus, and encode the logic circuit with a specific molecular pattern... ie DNA? So, if we have someone's DNA, we can custom build a viral bomb to travel through the entire population, and once it hits the person, it could cause life threatening alterations to their body chemistry?

    That's probably beyond the scope of this research, but once you have a biological logic circuit, it's just a finite matter of time before it's put to military

  • "Bring in the logic probe!"
  • Z.Xie, L.Wroblewska, and L. Prochazka, who all were listed as authors before the professors, seem to have done the bulk of the work. Kudos to you.
  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @03:58PM (#37290518)

    I have wondered to myself a few times if it would be possible to reprogram an intracellular parasite to become a new "immortality" organelle.

    Take for instance, the work with toxoplasma gondii. This is already an intracellular parasite, which has been fully sequenced and even fully reprogrammed in the lab.

    we suspect that much of 'old age' is the genetic breakdown of chromosomes from cellular mitosis, which causes a limit to the number of times a healthy cell culture can divide, and further impact the functional health of tissues made from such aged cellular populations.

    Incorporating a failsafe backup of the chromosomes of the host, detecting cancer factors, and selectively disabling some the tumor suppression genes in the host that restrict tissue regeneration would radically increase the lifespan of the host.

    The idea I had in mind was for the endoparasite to contain a normal bacterial genome capsid, for the organism's own cellular activites, and for the cancer detection and apoptosis trigger of the host--- but also to contain a fully synthetic non-replicating copy of the host's genome. (Perhaps it could be phosphorilated or in some other manner rendered bioologically inactive in the parasite.)

    The idea is that as the telomeres of the host's genome break down, it triggers the biological equivalent of running fsck on the host genome, then rebuilds the host telomeres- essentially restarting the cell division clock, and rejuvenating the host tissue.

    The problem I haven't come up with a suitable answer for, is how to cope if the organisms end up in the WRONG host.

    We don't want aunt mae turning into uncle ben on the genetic level after they shag, for instance.

    The organisms need a way to update the template, withou updating to a BROKEN template in the host.

    I am not a genetic engineer, so I haven't thout too deeply on the matter, but I could deffinately see something like this turning somebody essentially immortal.

    • RAID1 DNA?

      • Technically speaking, dna already has a raid1 configuration, this would be hybrid raid.

        (Double helix has 2 sides that mirror each other, so already raid 1.)

    • Given that senators get older every year, you can rest assured they have never significantly cut funding for aging related research unless it was stem-cell related. For grins, you can do a full-text search for "telomerase" and "aging" in the NIH funded grant database and see how many hits you get. . .

      http://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cf [nih.gov]

      you'll see lots of ideas along the lines you've proposed (not exactly but close). I'm not in the aging field, but I can attest that to the fact that pretty much

  • ...it can serve a basis for very specific biological weapons.

    There I fixed that for you

  • brb. hands just commiteted suicide.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -- Christopher Morley