Pulse 116: CRISPR Enables Smart Programmable Biomaterials

26 August 2019
Giulio Prisco

Programmable DNA CRISPR

The programmable, CRISPR-responsive smart biomaterials developed at Harvard and MIT (see below) promise to find many clinical and industrial applications.

“Our study shows that the power of CRISPR can be harnessed outside of the laboratory for controlling the behavior of DNA-responsive materials,” said Wyss Institute Founding Core Faculty member James Collins.

“We developed a range of materials with very different capabilities that highlight the breadth of applications enabled by programmable CRISPR-responsive smart materials. These applications include novel theranostic strategies, point-of-care diagnostics, and the regional monitoring of epidemic outbreaks and environmental hazards.”

This breakthrough “demonstrates the value of CRISPR technology for entirely new fields, ranging from diagnostics and theragnostics to bioelectronics, and marks yet another inspiring inflection point for biomedical developments enabled by this bioinspired technology,” added Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber.

CRISPR-responsive smart biomaterials. Scientists at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and MIT have demonstrated programmable CRISPR-responsive smart materials that could open the door to novel tissue engineering, bioelectronic, and diagnostic applications. A research paper published in Science shows that, upon activation by specific natural or user-defined DNA stimuli, a CRISPR-Cas enzyme enables a variety of smart materials to release bound cargo such as fluorescent dyes and active enzymes, change their structures to deploy encapsulated nanoparticles and live cells, or regulate electric circuits thereby converting biological into electric signals.

Research advances against incurable children's brain cancer. Researchers led by Yale University, University of Iowa, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), an affiliate of City of Hope, have discovered a new pathway that may improve success against an incurable type of children's brain cancer. The study results, published today in Nature Communications, suggest that scientists have identified a unique way to disrupt the cellular process that contributes to Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas (DIPG).

Dogs help maintain a healthy heart. Owning a pet may help maintain a healthy heart, especially if that pet is a dog, according to an analysis of a wide sample of people in the city of Brno, Czech Republic, from January 2013 through December 2014. The study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, examines the association of pet ownership - specifically dog ownership - with cardiovascular disease risk factors and cardiovascular health.

The physical basis of successful ion therapy against cancer. Researchers at TU Vienna have demonstrated physical processes for ion therapy, which harnesses complex atomic effects to destroy cancer cells. A study published in Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters shows that, owing to a process called interatomic coulombic decay, an ion can pass on additional energy to surrounding atoms. This frees a huge number of electrons, with precisely the right amount of energy to cause optimal damage to the DNA of the cancer cells.

Soft robotic muscles for advanced prosthetics. Researchers at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed an ultrathin, artificial muscle for soft robotics. The advancement, recently reported in Science Robotics, was demonstrated with a robotic blooming flower brooch, dancing robotic butterflies and fluttering tree leaves on a kinetic art piece. The researchers are persuaded that soft robotic muscles could have a wide variety of applications, from wearable electronics to advanced prosthetics.

How pressure-sensing proteins work. Scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine and The Rockefeller University have discovered the basic mechanism of Piezo proteins, which function as sensors in the body for mechanical stimuli such as touch, bladder fullness, and blood pressure. The research results, published in Nature, open up many new paths of investigation into the roles of Piezo proteins in human diseases and potential new therapeutic strategies.

New promising approach to cancer immunotherapy. Researchers at UC San Diego have developed a new therapeutic approach for cancer, which halts drug resistance and cancer progression by using an antibody that induces the immune system to seek and kill cancer cells. Promising research results with laboratory mice, published in Cancer Research, have been obtained by using a monoclonal antibody that induces the immune system to seek and kill ανβ3-expressing cancer cells.

New hydrogel promotes tissue repair and regeneration. Bioengineers and dentists at UC Los Angeles have developed a new hydrogel that is more porous and effective in promoting tissue repair and regeneration. A study published in Nature Communications shows that, once injected in a mouse model, the new hydrogel induces migration of naturally occurring stem cells to better promote bone healing. Current experimental applications, using hydrogels and stem cells introduced into the body or expensive biological agents, can come with negative side effects.

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