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He folds DNA like others fold paper

"We can use DNA origami to design small structures like those that exist in the body and then study them."

Bild på Björn HögbergSo says Sweden's only DNA origamist, Björn Högberg, researcher at the Department of Neuroscience working at the Karolinska Institutet's Swedish Medical Nanoscience Center. Dr Högberg designs tiny, nano-scale DNA structures for a wide range of medical research purposes. First he builds digital models of structures on his computer, and then manufactures them using long, single-strand DNA molecules, bonding them with shorter DNA stands to force them to fold into the required three-dimensional shapes. Proteins or other molecules can then be attached to the new structures.

Some medical uses of DNA origami:

Drug delivery

Here the nano structure acts like a bag containing active drug molecules. On the outside are molecules that recognise cancer cells, so that the bag only opens and delivers its payload when it encounters the proper target.

Cell signalling

In one ongoing project being conducted with Ana Teixeira at Karolinska Institutet, researchers are trying to learn more about a the Eph receptor, which is found in relatively high numbers on the surface of certain breast cancer cells. It is believed that the location and density of the receptors on the cell surfaces help to determine which signals the cells transmits to their neighbours. DNA origami can be used to test this hypothesis by creating structures with differing receptor densities. The researchers hope to discover more about the part these receptors play in breast cancer and perhaps to one day create new drug targets.

Bacteria maps

Researchers are trying to make bacteria like E. coli produce special iron-bearing nano-structures, which in turn can be tracked with an MRI scanner. The method could replace more unwieldy methods of monitoring the movement of bacteria in the body.

More on Björn Högberg's research.