DNA Nanotechnology: Developing and Analyzing a New Tool for Sensing and Targeting Disease

Award Amount
Project Dates
07/01/2014 to 06/30/2016
Principal Investigator

Efie Kokkoli, PhD (Chemical Engineering and Materials Science)
Karen Ashe, PhD (Neurology)
Scott McIvor, PhD (Genetics, Cell Biology and Development)
Walter Low, PhD (Neurosurgery)
Ted Labuza, PhD (Food Science and Engineering)
Susan M. Wolf, JD (Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences)

This 2-year project used breakthrough DNA nanotechnology to engineer and evaluate materials to address major health challenges and food system issues. We propose to use aptamer-amphiphiles as DNA nanotubes to target and treat Alzheimer’s disease and brain tumors, and as sensors to detect food allergens such as milk. DNA nanotubes have the potential to deliver compounds – such as nucleic acids – to the brain safely and efficiently, while aptamer-amphiphiles can detect milk with potentially ultrafast response time. Such research involving DNA and nanotechnology raises controversial questions of ethics, law, and policy.

Project outcomes 

  • To engineer and evaluate DNA nanotubes both in vitro and in vivo for the delivery of nucleic acids as part of a targeted antitumor strategy against glioblastoma multiforme.
  • To engineer and evaluate DNA nanotubes both in vitro and in vivo for the specific delivery of ASOs to neurons in the brain with the goal of lowering APPs and preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • To develop an aptamer-amphiphile-based LC assay for the rapid and sensitive in-plant detection of dairy proteins by detecting β-lactoglobulin from surface swabs of typical processing equipment.
  • To map the ethical, legal, and societal issues raised by DNA nanotechnology and generate consensus recommendations. Generate and publish more detailed analyses of particular dimensions of these problems, such as occupational health implications, environmental assessment, human subjects concerns, concerns raised by use in food production, oversight design, and public concerns. Assemble a full bibliography on the ELSI issues raised by DNA nanostructures