DNA ‘Trojan horse’ smuggles drugs into resistant cancer cells – Cells mistake DNA casing for food, consume drugs and die

Researchers at Ohio State University are working on a new method to treat resistant cancer cells.  Since the cancer cells are resistant, they are no longer affected by the cancer drugs the patient has been taking.  However, when researchers encapsulated one of the resistant drugs in DNA, the resistant cells mistook the drug for food, ate it, and died.  This technique is called “DNA Origami” and it has only been used to treat solid tumors, never before used to treat drug-resistant leukemia cells.

The researchers have been testing this method in mice, and hope to move onto humans within a few years.  The researchers are studying acute myeloid leukemia (AML) that is resistant against the drug daunorubicin.  When daunorubicin enters an AML cell, the cell recognizes them and pumps them back out through openings in the cell wall, much like a sump pump.

The new method they are exploring hiding is like a “trojan horse” becuase daunorubicin is hid inside a DNA shell that can bypass the pumps so they can’t eject the drug from the cell.  The drug accumulates and then causes the cell to die.

There is also hope to tailor these structures to make them deliver drugs selectively to cancer cells and not to other parts of the body where they can cause side effects.

DNA origami nanostructures have great potential for drug delivery.  The drug the researchers were studying in this research worked by going into the cancer cell’s DNA and preventing it from replicating.


The question I will ask is:  Knowing that DNA origami has been used to treat solid tumors but never before leukemia, do you think this cancer treatment method will work in other types of cancers? Why or why not?




Patrick D. Halley, Christopher R. Lucas, Emily M. McWilliams, Matthew J. Webber, Randy A. Patton, Comert. Kural, David M. Lucas, John C. Byrd, Carlos E. Castro. DNA Origami: Daunorubicin-Loaded DNA Origami Nanostructures Circumvent Drug-Resistance Mechanisms in a Leukemia Model (Small 3/2016). Small, 2016; 12 (3): 307 DOI:10.1002/smll.201670014

1 thought on “DNA ‘Trojan horse’ smuggles drugs into resistant cancer cells – Cells mistake DNA casing for food, consume drugs and die”

  1. This is a rather fascinating article because I have never heard of cancer being treated in this way. What role do you think pharmacists will play in such a novel drug development design? Do you think technology like this could be applied to other disease states or infections in which cells actively pump drug out of the cell? Do you think this could play a future role in the antibiotics crisis that is due to drug resistance?

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