Scientists use nanomagnetic systems to control cellular signalling

January 9th, 2008 - 2:33 pm ICT by admin  

London, January 9 (ANI): Experiments carried out by researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston suggest that the nanotechnology may soon provide a non-invasive technique to control drug release in the body, and physiologic processes like heart rhythms and muscle contractions.

Doctors Don Ingber and Robert Mannix, who worked in collaboration with Harvard University physicist Dr. Mara Prentiss, have revealed that they have devised a way to get tiny beads stick to receptor molecules on the cell surface.

They say that these beads become magnets upon being exposed to a magnetic field, and pull together the cell’s receptors into large clusters, mimicking what happens when drugs or other molecules bind to them.

As a result of clustering, the receptors get activated and trigger a cascade of biochemical signals that influence different cell functions.

Ingber claims that this is the first time that magnetism has been used to harness specific cellular signalling systems normally used by hormones or other natural molecules.

“This technology allows us to control the behaviour of living cells through magnetic forces rather than chemicals or hormones,” Nature Nanotechnology quoted him as saying.

“It may provide a new way to interface with machines or computers in the future, opening up entirely new ways of controlling drug delivery, or making detectors that have living cells as component parts. We’ve harnessed a biological control system, but we can control it at will, using magnetic forces,” he added.

The researchers said that similar “nanomagnetic” control systems could be advantageous because they might provide a near-instantaneous on-off switch, unlike hormones and chemicals that can take minutes to hours to act and then may linger in the body.

Ingber envisions a kind of pacemaker that would involve an injection of nanoparticles into the heart that could then be controlled magnetically.

The nanomagnetic system may also interface with external instruments and computer controls that take in information from the body or the surrounding environment and activate the magnet as needed, he adds.

He, however, concedes that these examples are just theoretical.

“The applications are hard to define because we’re opening up a whole new area of control that never existed before,” Ingber says.

The study was supported by a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant from the Department of Defense, and an NIH postdoctoral fellowship. (ANI)

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