Scientists Develop Tiny Implantable Biocomputers
21 May, 2007 07:00 pm
Scientists at Harvard University and Princeton University have developed a tiny implantable biological computer that could revolutionize medicine. Dr Yaakov (Kobi) Benenson gives us an insight into the results published this week in Nature Biotechnology.
The computer itself is constructed of biological molecules such as RNA, DNA and proteins. Basically, the systems we built contain proteins and nucleic acids. In order to make the system work, inside the cells we created a set of genes and molecules that get included in the components within the cells.
Why is it a new step in the development of biocomputers research?
So far, most of the research was done in test tubes in in vitro systems. This seems to be a crucial step towards implementation of these systems in life itself. The work I did in the past at the Weizmann Institute was about an in vitro computer. Our current work is a first important step towards a system that works in the organisms, inside life itself. By demonstrating how the system may work in human cells, we get closer to the eventual implementation of diagnosis or medical tools in humans.
What kind of applications do you foresee?
Applications are quite simple but biologically important. We think of our system as decision making computers. If your task, for example, is to diagnose a disease which is characterized by multiple molecular signals inside the cells, these signals are symptoms. You may think about a human doctor. When it comes to check a patient or make a diagnosis, a human doctor has to collect multiple indicators. Then he will drive a number of tests and, given the results of these tests, he will make a diagnosis decision. He will decide whether the results of the tests or the signals indicate this or that problem, he will receive all the measurements and tests and give a diagnosis. This process of making a decision is a computation process. The molecular computer will receive all the measurements, all the tests and give a diagnosis by itself. It looks like a logic step based process which checks for different symptoms and says whether there is a problem …You need lots of these inputs to make a decision. What we’ve just built here is a molecular system that works inside the cells that may in the future make quite complex decisions based on multiple signals. A diagnosis system that works inside the cell itself.
Interview by Clementine Fullias
Benenson and Weiss, Nature Biotechnologies, 21 May 2007
Yaakov (Kobi) Benenson, is a Bauer Fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University.