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Ready for a nanocomputer made of proteins, directs cells

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The first nanocomputer made of modified proteins is ready: at the moment it is capable of directing cells making them change their location and direction in space, but in the future it could make it possible to develop new cellular therapies for various diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, infections and nerve injuries. Results, published In the journal Science Advances, obtained from Penn State University in the US, it is a first step towards being able to modify behaviors more important than cells, such as the genes expressed and the effectiveness of immune cells against tumors.

Conventional approaches to cell therapies, such as those aimed at destroying cancer cells or regenerating damaged tissue, rely on the production or suppression of proteins that perform the required task. On the other hand, researchers led by Nikolai Dokulian and Jiaxing Chen chose a different path: “We modify the proteins so that they act directly the way we want them,” Dokulian explains; “Our nanocomputers respond directly to stimuli and produce the desired action.”

To do this, the study authors incorporated two sensors into the protein that respond to two different stimuli: light and a drug called rapamycin. The outcome depends on the order in which the cells receive these two signals: if rapamycin is detected first and then the light, the cell will orient itself in space at a certain angle, whereas if the stimuli are received in the reverse order, the displacement will be different. According to Chen, this first test opens the door to the development of more complex protein-based nanocomputers: “Theoretically, the more signals you incorporate into the nanocomputer, the more results you can get thanks to the different combinations.”

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