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This nanoscience researcher is building DNA origami to fight cancerous tumors

For his work using nanobots to treat cancer at the molecular level, Arizona State University’s Hao Yan is one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People of 2019.

This nanoscience researcher is building DNA origami to fight cancerous tumors
[Illustration: Oscar Llorens]


Can a robot fight cancer? Yes, but it needs to be really, really tiny, which is why Hao Yan and researchers at ASU and China’s National Center for Nanoscience and Technology are building nanobots that are one-thousandth the width of a strand of hair. Constructed from DNA folded into 3D shapes—a process nicknamed “DNA origami”—these autonomous, molecular-level machines “go into the blood to find the tumor and kill it,” explains Yan. Crucially, they leave healthy cells untouched. Theoretically applicable to a wide range of cancers, this unique form of nanostructure technology has shown promise in initial tests, doubling the survival rate of mice with cancer. Yan recently cofounded Nanobot Biosciences, an early-stage startup that aims to help get the bots out of the lab and into commercial use. He estimates that a nanobot capable of treating human cancer patients may be just four to five years away.

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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