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Biological 'Logic Circuit' Destroys Cancer Cells

Soulskill posted about 3 years ago | from the just-don't-teach-them-how-to-hate dept.

Biotech 98

intellitech writes "Researchers led by ETH professor Yaakov Benenson and MIT professor Ron Weiss have successfully incorporated diagnostic biological information processing in human cells. In a study recently published in Science (abstract), they describe a multi-gene synthetic 'logic circuit' whose task is to distinguish between cancer and healthy cells, and subsequently target cancer cells for destruction. This circuit works by sampling and integrating five intracellular, cancer-specific molecular factors and their concentration. The circuit makes a positive identification only when all factors are present in the cell, resulting in highly precise cancer detection. Researchers hope it can serve a basis for very specific anti-cancer treatments."

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cool! (1)

datapharmer (1099455) | about 3 years ago | (#37289300)

That is really cool.... it won't go terribly wrong, right?

Re:cool! (2)

0123456 (636235) | about 3 years ago | (#37289532)

That is really cool.... it won't go terribly wrong, right?

If it does, you'll die. Which you were going to do anyway.

Re:cool! (1)

jank1887 (815982) | about 3 years ago | (#37289600)

until it learns to jump hosts... then we all die.

Re:cool! (1)

jcfandino (2196932) | about 3 years ago | (#37289870)

We won't die, just become zombies.

Re:cool! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37290162)

Doesn't zombification first require death?

Re:cool! (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 3 years ago | (#37290514)

Well, the upside to that is that it will be a rather short lived problem. Its not going to live long after it kills us all.

Re:cool! (1)

Abstrackt (609015) | about 3 years ago | (#37289840)

I imagine at least a few people considering euthanasia would jump on the chance to sign up for human trials for that reason. After all, if you're planning to die anyway, why not do it for science and the chance things might improve?

Re:cool! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37290242)

Yes, this is really cool stuff, But I don't think it going to be something that will be able to use as a treatment any time soon. The big issue is this boils down genetic enginnering. Adding a tiger for a cell to self destructed once a cancer state has been identified. This type of genetic enginnering really can only be down at embryonic stages where you only dealing with one or half a dozen cells.

Adding this type of fail safe to an adult would be very difficult, there are possibilities using retrovirus , or other methods ( I believe there some interesting stuff being done with nano_materials) But from what I understand current methiod like this won't be able to hit every cell in your body. There also issues with target where to place the new gene into the genome, if you mess your likely to induce cancer, or hamper the cell.


Re:cool! (1)

rpresser (610529) | about 3 years ago | (#37290834)

When you add a tiger to a cell, the tiger usually gets very upset. Tigers need lots of room.

Re:cool! (1)

JazzyMusicMan (1012801) | about 3 years ago | (#37289966)

That is really cool.... it won't go terribly wrong, right?

If it does, you'll die. Which you were going to do anyway.

Couldn't that be used as an argument for doing every sort of crazy, dangerous, or bone-headed thing that crosses into people's mind? I mean, you're ALWAYS going to die eventually ...

Re:cool! (1)

somersault (912633) | about 3 years ago | (#37290620)

You have a point! I'm off to wrestle that bear that's been bullying me for my lunch money. Will report back on my success later.

Re:cool! (1)

WankersRevenge (452399) | about 3 years ago | (#37290564)

If it does, you'll die. Which you were going to do anyway.

Not to sound like the Jim Morrisson downer in the room, but you ARE going to die. We are all on death row.

Don't wait until a doctor reaffirms this fact to try and do the things that you consider fulfilling.

Big difference in the two (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about 3 years ago | (#37291684)

One is the fact that the "Man In Black" will be visiting you (unless you are immortal)

the other is that the "Man In Black" has penciled you in for a date in the near future for his visit.

but yes Live with as little fear as possible so that the record shows you had a WILD RIDE (and most likely skidded for a week afterwards).

Great Weapon (2)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | about 3 years ago | (#37290090)

Throughout human history, it has always been easier to kill someone with a new invention than to save someone. This may be the next generation of biological weapons.

Re:Great Weapon (2)

Gyorg_Lavode (520114) | about 3 years ago | (#37290440)

I suspect there are far easier ways to kill someone than what they are doing.

Re:Great Weapon (1)

somersault (912633) | about 3 years ago | (#37290634)

But it just doesn't feel like science that way..

Re:Great Weapon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37291162)

but now you can target specific "molecular factors", perhaps eye color, height, weight, sex, etc.

Re:Great Weapon (1)

Fjandr (66656) | about 3 years ago | (#37292010)

It's designed to target cell types, not the genome itself.

Like, you could kill everyone with, say, a heart, liver, or lungs.

Re:Great Weapon (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 3 years ago | (#37291412)

Not sure if it's possible, but I could imagine someone creating a virus specifically targeting an individual based on their DNA. For example, we could all pass the virus and it would do nothing but replicate and infect eventually finding it's way to the intended programmed target. At this point, it drops it's deadly payload of instructions and kills the target. Basically, a tool of assassination. Of course, there's always that what-could-possibly-go-wrong moment and the damn thing mutates killing us all.

Re:Great Weapon (1)

kaliann (1316559) | about 3 years ago | (#37302712)

But it's easier and cheaper to shoot someone or arrange a car accident. The amount of research, time, money, skill, scientific advancement, and effort needed to create a logic circuit to differentiate between two related individuals is orders of magnitude higher than this experimental protocol, and even more orders of magnitude more expensive than a bullet.

The molecular differences between individuals are both very slight and unbelievably numerous. The only way a logic circuit like this can work is if the differences are very drastic, like in cancer cells. Ethnic targeting, however, could be a very viable concern. I shudder to think.

A DNA profile of a person relies on tiny differences in highly variable areas of code, most of which are in regions that don't code for RNA (the substrate for this logic circuit). In addition, most of the DNA is packed up most of the time, and unavailable to being read.

The scenario you are describing would need to target a population of cells that are rapidly dividing: GI or bone marrow would be ideal. Then it would have to have a logic circuit imbedded in something that can access the genome, a DNA virus for example. After that, it would need to be able to identify a bunch of different locations that add up to a unique profile (this is the tough part) and, if all of them are true, result in a lethal change. That last sentence is the tough bit. Decades, if not centuries, away.

At least the next step. (1)

formfeed (703859) | about 3 years ago | (#37291878)

This is cancer treatment, but I agree: The ability to incorporate "logical" switches that react to markers in the DNA makes it suddenly possible to develop biological agents that are targeted towards specific subgroups of the human population.

Re:At least the next step. (1)

onepoint (301486) | about 3 years ago | (#37291984)

well this is rather frightening to those groups like the the jewish rabbis of Ethiopia which have specific markers and most likely multiple hill tribes of the nepal. what next are we going to look for the slanted eye gene and kill all the Asians, or the green eye's with red hair and kill all the Irish, wait ... blue eye's and blond hair taking out the northern countries of Europe, or how about skin color gene,

shit I don't even like the road this is taking.

Re:At least the next step. (1)

kaliann (1316559) | about 3 years ago | (#37302758)

This is a very valid concern. Right now, I just have to take comfort in the fact that the differences between populations are so subtle that a logic switch currently would have trouble differentiating the target group with sufficient specificity.

Of course, this means that someone trying to target one ethnic group is potentially capable of accidentally killing even more people than they think. Like... everyone. The next Holocaust may very well be biological.

Also, it should be possible to vaccinate against these if necessary. Sadly, that would be after the problem has a head start.
Ooh, or counterinfect the individual with a gene to produce an exclusion criterion (i.e. whatever the developers put in to keep it from killing their own ethnic group).

Hope it works (1)

eedwardsjr (1327857) | about 3 years ago | (#37289324)

I think we have all lost either a family member/friend/coworker to cancer. It seems they are making a lot of progress. Not long ago was the method to use reprogrammed safe HIV. I really hope cancer can take the polio route soon.

Re:Hope it works (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 3 years ago | (#37289618)

Ditto. I just have a feeling... similar to how I feel about recent advances in solar cell tech (etc)... We keep hearing about all these great innovations in the last few years, but so far none of them have translated into a "revolutionary" advance. I'd like to see something that actually gets "out of the lab" and into widespread use someday. Keeping fingers crossed...

Re:Hope it works (1)

FrankSchwab (675585) | about 3 years ago | (#37289892)

Medical improvements take a long time from "discovery" to "buy it at Walgreens". The discoveries you hear about today won't translate into treatments for 10-20 years. But, progress is certainly being made (

Re:Hope it works (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 3 years ago | (#37290586)

Not long ago was the method to use reprogrammed safe HIV.

No, that was never the case. Please don't ever tell anyone about that again as you could not be much further from correct and still use the right words.

HIV was used to modify white blood cells, which did the actual work.

At no point does anyone get injected with HIV, nor does it being 'safe' have any actual bearing on it. You do not get an HIV injecting, you get seeded with your own modified white blood cells.

Sorry to sound like an ass, but as long as people think OMG HIV!@$@!%!@% it'll be treated like nuclear power, and I'd rather actually have something useful happen.

No, I don't believe its worth educating the ignorant, I've got other things to do that actually accomplish something, I'm fine with them being unaware of the specifics if it keeps them from fucking it up.

Re:Hope it works (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 years ago | (#37291200)

I wonder where you would be if the people that taught you had better things to do then teach the ignorant?

Because, you my friend, are also ignorant.

Thats it.. We are all living forever. (1)

geman (1031214) | about 3 years ago | (#37289384)

Sure hope they figure this out in the next 20 years so I can grow to be as old as a tree.

Re:Thats it.. We are all living forever. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289430)

Then cut down and harvested as raw material or is that carrying metaphor too far?

Re:Thats it.. We are all living forever. (1)

Fjandr (66656) | about 3 years ago | (#37292058)

If people start living forever, no, it's not carrying the metaphor too far. In fact, it'll be absolutely necessary.

Re:Thats it.. We are all living forever. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289438)

That brings a scary new reality to the concept of deforestation.

Re:Thats it.. We are all living forever. (1)

Dekker3D (989692) | about 3 years ago | (#37289776)

Let's hope it doesn't turn you into a vegetable instead!

Re:Thats it.. We are all living forever. (2)

AwesomeMcgee (2437070) | about 3 years ago | (#37290008)

Who cares, so long as they can keep us alive long enough, in 80 years they'll have mastered devegetation!

Re:Thats it.. We are all living forever. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37290266)

...and here I thought we'd already mastered devegetation with the use of lawn mowers...

In Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289412)

In Soviet Russia, Benenson Yaakovs you!

I'm not counting. (1)

rednip (186217) | about 3 years ago | (#37289518)

I'm not counting, how many prospective cancer cures this month? I'm rooting for every one, but still.

Re:I'm not counting. (1)

UninformedCoward (1738488) | about 3 years ago | (#37289826)

1, it is only the 2nd of Sept.

Re:I'm not counting. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37291282)

"Capitalism, the only roller coaster that more fun going up."

Check your sig's spelling.

Common factors. Cancer and AIDS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289526)

Yea. Obviously cancer cells are doing something they shouldn't be doing in the adult human body that normal cells do not do.

Find what only cancer cells are doing (that the body can't seem to deal with) then use that identifier to obliterate only the cancerous cells in a way the body can safely handle.

Simple in concept, much harder in execution.

Actually, if one could perfectly identify healthy human cells and blow up corrupted human cells, you might not only take out cancer but AIDS as well. Whee!

Re:Common factors. Cancer and AIDS? (3, Insightful)

HiThere (15173) | about 3 years ago | (#37290592)

Sorry, your "universal cure" is so much more difficult that I don't see it as even worth working on right now.

Problems are:
1) Different cells do different things, and have different genes active at different times.
2) We are rather dependent on lots of micro-organisms that aren't human. So much so that they usually add up to around half our weight (I'm quite uncertain of the exact percentage, but it's hugely more that is commonly believed.) So you'd need to identify and exclude all of the necessary microorganisms from the "cure". And even then it's more complicated, as most of the microorganisms are only allowed to exist in certain parts of the body. So you've got to map micro-organism against location in your exclusion list.

Much easier to just tackle one problem at a time.

Re:Common factors. Cancer and AIDS? (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | about 3 years ago | (#37293794)

If we're talking about gene targeting I dont think microorganisms will be a big problem.

Re:Common factors. Cancer and AIDS? (1)

kaliann (1316559) | about 3 years ago | (#37302444)

1) This is why the logic circuit targets things that are
  a) present in cancer cells that are not present in other cells at the same levels and
  b) uses a "multi-input" circuit. This means multiple abnormalities present in the same cell. This is common in cancer cells, but not in normal cells.
2) Mammals have apoptotic (killswitch) pathways that can be used that are not present in microbes. The biologist/doctors developing this are likely aware of the importance of a microbiome. However, even if this treatment killed every microbe in the body, a simple transfaunation (microbe transfusion) would solve the problem in the one area that is unlikely to spontaneously repopulate quickly (gut). We are born pretty much sterile, remember. There are worse things than killing off the bugs. One of them is cancer.

Re:Common factors. Cancer and AIDS? (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about 3 years ago | (#37291240)

Not to mention the cytokine storm that happens if you can't slow the process down enough.

Re:Common factors. Cancer and AIDS? (1)

kaliann (1316559) | about 3 years ago | (#37302462)

A valid concern. I think dosing may address that though. There is no reason to give a dose high enough to kill every cancer cell at once.

Cynical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289548)

And it will come to market in no less than 15 years from now, with 1/10th the effectiveness of the original study.

Sorry for being cynical, but it seems we get all sorts of researchers making breakthrough discoveries and then it takes a decade or longer for the stuff to get out to the general public to be used.

Re:Cynical (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 3 years ago | (#37289598)

Sorry for being cynical, but it seems we get all sorts of researchers making breakthrough discoveries and then it takes a decade or longer for the stuff to get out to the general public to be used.

That's the wonder of government regulation. It's better that you die of cancer than risk taking a treatment that might save you.

Re:Cynical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289902)

Not just government regulation, but also pharmaceutical companies. It is much more profitable for them to help you 'manage' your cancer than to just cure it and be done.

Re:Cynical (1)

jank1887 (815982) | about 3 years ago | (#37289612)

because otherwise it would kill you. but we wouldn't want that to slow down progress, now would we?

Re:Cynical (1)

smelch (1988698) | about 3 years ago | (#37290254)

And the cancer wouldn't? Don't be such a fool. We live in a country where acne medication requires constant blood work to make sure they're not taking a big steamy dump on your kidneys, or rape your liver if you do what everybody with a severe acne problem is doing and drink away the pain. On the other hand, something that might kill a dying patient can't be used because they might, uh, die if it doesn't work right?

Re:Cynical (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 3 years ago | (#37290624)

You do know how researchers get funding, don't you?

Let me give you a hint, its not by telling everyone the realistic outcome of their research.

They can't say "AND" gate (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 3 years ago | (#37289562)

Yes, it's more impressive than an "OR" gate (which could simply be two different mechanisms that trigger the same effect), but the word Logic circuit just doesn't do it for me.

You really want to impress me, show me an "XOR" - either of two indications, but not both.

Re:They can't say "AND" gate (1)

jank1887 (815982) | about 3 years ago | (#37289632)

if we get to start building logic functions in biology, will that start a whole new phase of 'XYZ in a person' patents?

Re:They can't say "AND" gate (1)

nschubach (922175) | about 3 years ago | (#37290142) a person, using a computer.

Re:They can't say "AND" gate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37290050)

Kill if replicating out of control AND pre-cancerous - acceptable
Kill if replicating out of control OR pre-cancerous - also acceptable
Kill if replicating out of control XOR pre-cancerous - ... awww no cure for cancer :(

Re:They can't say "AND" gate (3, Informative)

robotkid (681905) | about 3 years ago | (#37290636)

Yes, it's more impressive than an "OR" gate (which could simply be two different mechanisms that trigger the same effect), but the word Logic circuit just doesn't do it for me.

You really want to impress me, show me an "XOR" - either of two indications, but not both. []

Looks like these undergrads still have some bugs to work out, but in principle such a thing should be eminently possible given that most genes already have tons of positive and negative regulators that can be easily co-opted and transplanted. The trick is making a robust system with enough dynamic range that you can easily read the output, but with enough finesse that it can dampen the noise as well as mother nature does it.

Re:They can't say "AND" gate (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 3 years ago | (#37290640)

If you can do OR, and you can do AND then you can do XOR. XOR is just the right combination of AND and OR after all.

Re:They can't say "AND" gate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37290910)

If you can do OR, and you can do AND then you can do XOR. XOR is just the right combination of AND and OR after all.

Doesn't XOR also require a NOT?

Re:They can't say "AND" gate (1)

Digi-John (692918) | about 3 years ago | (#37291142)

It would be far better to just make a NAND. You can build any logical function out of NAND gates.

Re:They can't say "AND" gate (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about 3 years ago | (#37291254)

Ah, because of course all logic is limited to Boolean logic.

Prior Art (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | about 3 years ago | (#37289568)

Just based on the abstract, it sounds a lot like they've just tweaked the Cell cycle checkpoint [] mechanism. Your cells already use MicroRNA and miRNA to prevent tumor growth in a sort of sensor-effector "logic circuit" based on multiple inputs and feedback.

The abstract isn't clear enough about how this artificial process is different or constitutes a "logic circuit" that's novel relative to the natural mechanism. Not that it doesn't work better, but calling it a "logic circuit" seems sorta self-promoty, like when computer researchers in the 40s called computers "electronic brains."

Re:Prior Art (1)

kaliann (1316559) | about 3 years ago | (#37302522)

I realize that the abstract doesn't go into a lot of detail, but this is a piece from the introduction of the article that clarifies how this is a true logic circuit relying on 6 specific inputs to classify a cell as belonging to the targeted cell line (in this case, the common research model of HeLa).

Here, we describe such a mechanism, a “classifier” gene circuit that integrates sensory information from a large number of molecular markers to determine whether a cell is in a specific state and, if so, produces a biologically active protein output. Specifically, when transiently expressed inside a cell our classifier ascertains whether the expression profile of six endogenous miRNAs (19) matches a predetermined reference profile characteristic of the HeLa cervical cancer cell line. A match identifies the cell as HeLa and triggers apoptosis .

(Multi-Input RNAi-Based Logic Circuit for Identification of Specific Cancer Cells. Zhen Xie, Liliana Wroblewska, Laura Prochazka, Ron Weiss, and Yaakov Benenson. Science 2 September 2011: 333 (6047), 1307-1311. )

If you can get access through a local library/educational institution, I recommend reading it. It's quite interesting. Very early research, but nevertheless promising.
In order to be used, the technique would have to be tailored to the specific cancer a person has, and this will be problematic in cancers that differentiate along multiple lines. (It may kick ass on leukemia, which tends to be very clonal, but not work for an osteolipoma, which has significant variation in cell differentiation.)

Destroying cancer cells is bad. (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289622)

A cell only reverts to a cancer cell as a methof of self-preservation. This only happens when something else inhibits it's ability to get oxygen. Somone confirm this, because cancer is a cellular MODE that switches off when the cellular matrix recovers. An acid substrate causes this, and localized contact with a HEAVY METAL is proved why cancer clumps into what is known as a tumor. Get rid of that havy metal, and raise the substrate PH, and the cells revert back to aerobic energy chain mode.

SCIENTISTS are doing it wrong. If you kill cancer in any way other than gene therapy then you remove viable tissue from the body that is needed: killing cancer leaves a pit on the skin. [] will show you how a surgeon suggested Grocery store -available ingredients to force cells to absorb a PH increase to knock them back into normal aerobic mode: Sodium Bicarbonate (without aluminum) and maple syrup warmed in a saucepan for 5 minutes and drank with :8oz distilled water will do it.

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289986)

So for dozens of years, tens of thousands of doctors and researchers and all of the desperately afflicted patients have all simply failed to notice and cancer is trivially cured by household ingredients... Right.

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (0)

FrankSchwab (675585) | about 3 years ago | (#37290010)


So how does homeopathy and manipulation of vertebral subluxation help in the alkalinization of the localized substrate around the heavy metal contaminant leading to aerobicide of the wayward tissue? And is DMSO an effective transfer agent for these processes?

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37290046)

Aw, did those nasty chiropractors use a scary new word and make you afraid of them?

There, there.

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (1)

jafiwam (310805) | about 3 years ago | (#37290022)

Coo coo la looo!

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (1)

Ragondux (2034126) | about 3 years ago | (#37290030)

Yes, of course, and AIDS can be cured by drinking lemonade. Dumb scientists!

This is bullshit, but what happens when someone reads this, decides scientists are much less knowledgable than your average grandma, and doesn't go to a doctor because sodium bicarbonate cures everything? At the time I'm writing this, the OP is modded +2 interesting. However good rule of thumb would be to disregard any post that claims to have found a very simple and natural solution to a problem that has been baffling scientists for decades.

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37290342)

Disregard is a bad word. Heavy metals have been know to be harmful to the body. I would support some small lab studies to see if it has any effect on cancer cells. Till I see a few studies that show that this could have a effect on cells to do the above, I look at it like I would brain storming ideas. Some thing that should be looked into if it would effect the cells. No mater how stupid you may thing a brain storming idea is, you don't disregard it. Some part of it may help or some effect that the rest of the body does in reaction to the "wonder Cure" may be doing something. Just don't jump on the bandwagon and ignore scientist.

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (1)

Ragondux (2034126) | about 3 years ago | (#37290562)

No mater how stupid you may thing a brain storming idea is, you don't disregard it.

Yes you do, because funding is limited. There has to be a credibility threshold before you start doing experiments. Anyway, we're not speaking about science here, but about how to react when you read such a claim on an internet forum. Any post claiming "scientists are doing it wrong and the cure is actually very simple" has "quack" written all over it.

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37290054)

Bullshit. This kind of babble is the kind of shit that targets sick people and convinces the more gullible and desperate ones to forgo proper/effective treatments.

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (2)

emurphy42 (631808) | about 3 years ago | (#37290878)

The AC's link goes to a domain squatted by those "what you need, when you need it" assholes.

Here [] is the site that I assume the AC meant to link to (one of several near-identical sites, also including

Here [] is a Wikipedia article mentioning Tullio Simoncini, the guy behind said site:

Other criticisms were directed to Mazzucco after his decision, starting September 2008, to publicize an alternative cancer therapy based on Sodium bicarbonate and proposed by Italian ex-doctor Tullio Simoncini. Said therapy is currently unproven, and Simoncini was expelled from the Italian Medical Association after he was tried and found guilty of fraud and manslaughter, since a patient died, allegedly as result of Simoncini’s treatment.

For bonus points, here [] is a defense of the idea written by David Icke [] , infamous "world leaders are really evil reptile aliens in disguise!" conspiracy theorist. And here [] is another positive mention at, and here [] is that site's "where to get products" page with a mix of bogus vitamins, bogus berries, and faith healers.

Re:Destroying cancer cells is bad. (1)

Fjandr (66656) | about 3 years ago | (#37292174)

So explain how it is that cancer cells actually operate aerobically when in proximity to a blood vessel? Cancer cells only operate anaerobically when they're out of proximity to blood supply.

Oh, and you can't change the pH to a non-acid level, otherwise universal cell death occurs. All cells have an acidic pH. Or are scientists wrong about that too?

I mean, heaven forbid your body gets filled with amino acids. They cause cancer, so you should avoid them at all costs. Really, it's to your benefit. No, seriously, please personally avoid consuming anything with amino acids. We'll all be better off.

For some reason.. (1)

Mordermi (2432580) | about 3 years ago | (#37289652)

..this reminds me of nanomachines from Cowboy Bebop: The Movie.

goodnight sweet prince (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289748)

Today, Steve Jobs the head of Apple computer and inventor of minimalist design passed away due to complications from his fight with cancer. Jobs, who was last seen in the public eye wearing a very stylish black sock/dress combination; was said to be softly murmuring "But Wait! Theres more" before gently passing away early Friday morning.

You inSensitive clod! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289812)

their hand...she is ingesting fueling in_ternal wasn't on Steve's [] it there. Bring that shOuld be reciprocating bad Are tied up in 3 simple steps!

Biological Warfare (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | about 3 years ago | (#37289874)

So, technically then, it would be possible to inject this into a common virus, and encode the logic circuit with a specific molecular pattern... ie DNA? So, if we have someone's DNA, we can custom build a viral bomb to travel through the entire population, and once it hits the person, it could cause life threatening alterations to their body chemistry?

That's probably beyond the scope of this research, but once you have a biological logic circuit, it's just a finite matter of time before it's put to military/political use.

Re:Biological Warfare (1)

HiThere (15173) | about 3 years ago | (#37293064)

Sorry no mod points. But +5 insightful.

But as you indicate, that's decades away.

Ops.. I forgot not operator. there goes humanity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37289914)

Ops... I got a bug in the cicrcuit! I forgot not operator...
sorry, we killed all your healthy cells...

Logic (1)

Translation Error (1176675) | about 3 years ago | (#37290020)

"Bring in the logic probe!"

Reasearchers led by... (1)

CurryCamel (2265886) | about 3 years ago | (#37290122)

Z.Xie, L.Wroblewska, and L. Prochazka, who all were listed as authors before the professors, seem to have done the bulk of the work. Kudos to you.

theoretical immortality (2, Interesting)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 3 years ago | (#37290518)

I have wondered to myself a few times if it would be possible to reprogram an intracellular parasite to become a new "immortality" organelle.

Take for instance, the work with toxoplasma gondii. This is already an intracellular parasite, which has been fully sequenced and even fully reprogrammed in the lab.

we suspect that much of 'old age' is the genetic breakdown of chromosomes from cellular mitosis, which causes a limit to the number of times a healthy cell culture can divide, and further impact the functional health of tissues made from such aged cellular populations.

Incorporating a failsafe backup of the chromosomes of the host, detecting cancer factors, and selectively disabling some the tumor suppression genes in the host that restrict tissue regeneration would radically increase the lifespan of the host.

The idea I had in mind was for the endoparasite to contain a normal bacterial genome capsid, for the organism's own cellular activites, and for the cancer detection and apoptosis trigger of the host--- but also to contain a fully synthetic non-replicating copy of the host's genome. (Perhaps it could be phosphorilated or in some other manner rendered bioologically inactive in the parasite.)

The idea is that as the telomeres of the host's genome break down, it triggers the biological equivalent of running fsck on the host genome, then rebuilds the host telomeres- essentially restarting the cell division clock, and rejuvenating the host tissue.

The problem I haven't come up with a suitable answer for, is how to cope if the organisms end up in the WRONG host.

We don't want aunt mae turning into uncle ben on the genetic level after they shag, for instance.

The organisms need a way to update the template, withou updating to a BROKEN template in the host.

I am not a genetic engineer, so I haven't thout too deeply on the matter, but I could deffinately see something like this turning somebody essentially immortal.

Re:theoretical immortality (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about 3 years ago | (#37291390)


Re:theoretical immortality (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 3 years ago | (#37291712)

Technically speaking, dna already has a raid1 configuration, this would be hybrid raid.

(Double helix has 2 sides that mirror each other, so already raid 1.)

Re:theoretical immortality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37294874)

Technically speaking, animal DNA has a doubly-redundant-for-almost-everything raid1 configuration with different manufacturers for each copy. Though the manufacturers play fast and loose with the standards and specifications, the two raid instances never quite agree with each other...

Re:theoretical immortality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37291930)

Charles Sheffield wrote extensively on using telomeres to cure cancer and the possibility of them extending life spans in "Aftermath" and "Starfire," both very good reads. Just fyi...

Re:theoretical immortality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37291970)

"we suspect that much of 'old age' is the genetic breakdown of chromosomes from cellular mitosis, which causes a limit to the number of times a healthy cell culture can divide, and further impact the functional health of tissues made from such aged cellular populations."

Bullshit. How can two thirty year olds make a baby? Aging is the collection in the inter and intracellular matrix of inert molecules that the body has no enzymes, no tools, to get rid of. You can have a perfect copy of yuor DNA inside a cell, but if the cell is filled wall-to-wall with sawdust, the cell's tools have to work harder and make more mistakes than before.

We drag around this crap, getting slower and heavier and dumber and stupider within a few years, then poof! Something goes. Whether it's our paper-thin skin, frail bones or any of millions of chemical processes that simply don't work anymore.

And who's "we"?

Re:theoretical immortality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37293068)

Make these things short lived in the body, make them unable to replicate and inject these things once every 10 years to repair all your DNA. That way you just need to stay away from other people while the injection clears your system. They could also coat the delivery system with something that would make other people's immune system attack it immediately but not your own. There are other kinds of aging than that, though - try Googling SENS for a look at some people who have thought a lot about how to eliminate aging.

Re:theoretical immortality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37294438)

it's already been done. I am from the future!

Re:theoretical immortality (1)

robotkid (681905) | about 3 years ago | (#37294550)

Given that senators get older every year, you can rest assured they have never significantly cut funding for aging related research unless it was stem-cell related. For grins, you can do a full-text search for "telomerase" and "aging" in the NIH funded grant database and see how many hits you get. . . []

you'll see lots of ideas along the lines you've proposed (not exactly but close). I'm not in the aging field, but I can attest that to the fact that pretty much everyone who took cell biology with me walked out of the aging lecture thinking "why can't we fix this already", so I'm pretty sure others are trying as we speak. The devil is always in the details, of course, and from what little I do know I'm not holding my breath until we get a working gene therapy vector that doesn't give you leukemia as a side effect. . .

Re:theoretical immortality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37294932)

Some issues:

1) "Tumor suppression genes that restrict tissue regeneration" (like p53, bax, bcl-2, etc.) cannot safely be "disabled" without risking developmental problems and/or occurrence of neoplasias (for some reason they're called "tumor suppression genes");

2) Cell death (apoptosis) can actually be normal in healthy tissues (in certain developmental stages), so blindly blocking it might not be the smartest of ideas (ymmv and whatnot);

3) Regarding maintaining a non-functional copy of the host genome... first, you should probably methylate, rather than phosphorylate, it to keep it "unexpressable" (that's how living organisms already do it, anyway);

4) The problem of maintaining a failsafe backup is that it's not trivial at all. Unlike RAID, you cannot simply use error-correcting-codes over the DNA (or, at least, I cannot imagine how you could simply achieve that, without coming up with some strange new proteins from scratch)... your suggestion is to simply replicate and have another copy of the host's genomic DNA... but... that backup DNA copy will suffer the same type of "telomere erosion" and random mutations (due to oxidative stress, UV light, etc.) that degenerates, over time, the host's DNA copy. The main problem remains: when you just have two copies of the same thing (like the DNA's double strand... two complementary copies of the same information... 100% redundant) and one of the copy changes (e.g. nucleotide tautomerism or depurination), your correction method no longer has enough information to guarantee that its procedure won't modify the information (i.e. a mutation may occur). So... your method would require a way to ensure the backup copy is more resilient to degeneration/mutations that the host's copy and it would require that information changes are propagated from an organelle to the nucleus (without direct DNA-DNA contact) unidirectionally... not trivial at all. Unfortunately, there isn't a genomic equivalent of fsck :P

But.. yeah, the idea is fun nonetheless ;)

tl;dr: lol derp

Re:theoretical immortality (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 3 years ago | (#37295128)

1) in this case I don't mean all the suppression genes. Duh, of course you need them if you live longer than a gnat... :-) I mean the ones explicitly tied to fibroblast behavior. A few of these genes cause scar formation instead of proper tissue regeneration when they are active. We don't want neoplasms of any sort, we just want to reduce scarring from injury.

2) you misread. The idea is to CAUSE apoptosis when the parasite determines that its host cell is cancerous, or otherwise unsalvageable, not to prevent it. The idea is to kill off anomalous tissue, not keep it around to cause pathologies. :-)

3) again, I am not a geneticist. My original idea was to use an exotic synthetic dna analog, such as xdna, or some of the structural dna like molecules being used for nanotechnology applications. that would require quite a few custom enzymes and proteins though. (Not a trivial matter) if we use xdna, we could use the extra base pairs as parity information though, and the wider structure makes it a little more durable.

4) I remember watching a canned lecture on cellular analysis which featured a set of special inhibitory compounds that could lock a dividing cell in metaphase mitosis for extended periods, at least under a microscope. This would be the ideal time to crawl an enzyme down both sets of replicated chromosomes (host cell is in mid mitosis, just stuck, so all the chromosomes would be neatly unpacked aligned on centromere locations, and bound to chromatin), evaluate the telomere length, and compare against a custom variant of mrna produced by the parasite from the reference copy. An idea of where to start for this custom enzyme might be dna transcriptase. It should generate short chain sequences (say, up to centromere positions?) Of rna from the replicating host genome, direct those to the parasite, where both copies, and another enzyme that crawls the backup dna interact. This enzyme should have 4 active sites. One for each of the two input streams from the host, one attached to the backup genome, and the 4th to generate repair message rna chains. It basically checks to make sure that the host has properly replicated the nuclear genome, and that it also matches the stored one. If it doesn't, it creates the needed messages to cut and repair the host dna, to create a trna snippet from the backup, and then release these into the host cell's cytoplasm.

One of the things I think would be useful is the dna ligation and repair enzymes found in some species of yeast. Excellent thing to add to the parasite's capsid, so that it can create and release these when repairs are needed.

Holding off completion of mitosis is dangerous to the cell though, so these processes would need to complete pretty quickly. This is a pretty complicated process (but then again, so is ordinary transcription), and not garanteed to ensure viable copies, but errors would still have a chance to get caught on the next mitosis cycle.

The replication of the backup genome would occur after the parasite has determined that the copied host genome is correct. It (the parasite) divides, uses the already pulled in rna templates from the host that it used to check with, and uses them to verify the new copies of the backup genome prior to dividing itself. It then permits the host to finish dividing, and a new copy of the parasite goes into each daughter cell.

One way we might get the messages from the host cytoplasm into the parasite is though a custom receptor site on the parasite's cellular membrane, and an engineered protein tag stuck to the message. This would keep ordinary mrna and trna from getting inside. Once inside the parasite, we can do all kinds of things, assuming the parasite genome can handle lots of stuff in it....:-)

By checking at host mitosis time, we would have 3 copies of the host genome to compare against, and should be able to spot transcription erros with a "best 2 out of 3" approach.

As you said though, the devil is in the details. I wouldn't even know where to begin on such a project, much less make any useful headway. This was just a thought experiment. With sufficient understanding of genomics and proteomics, I still think something like this could be done.

(Yes, I know this would not completely stop mutations from happening. Then again, if we halt mutation of the human genome, we halt human evolution. The idea here is to extend personal lifespans as much as is realistically possible, not to make and preserve perfect humans. :-) )

Re:theoretical immortality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37300786)

You are way overthinking this. The telomerase gene, already present in all of our cells, when active, adds telomere repeats, and thus provides cellular immortality. We should have a human telomerase activator ready for clinical trials in less than 5 years. Google Sierra Sciences.

BioWeapons (1)

DeadboltX (751907) | about 3 years ago | (#37290548) can serve a basis for very specific biological weapons.

There I fixed that for you

what's the worst that could happen? (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 3 years ago | (#37291384)

brb. hands just commiteted suicide.

Software for a VERY large installed base? (1)

Legal.Troll (2002574) | about 3 years ago | (#37292022)

Am I understanding this right? Is this essentially software programming that is being executed by human cells? If so, that is just mind-blowingly cool.

just tell me one thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37293876)

...please tell me that Will Smith is not involved?

Virii can't code, right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37296654)

Thank goodness a virus, or bacteria, could never, aever, absolutely hijack this code, or part of it, and turn it around to become an instant-full-body-metastasising-cancer virus. Right? Nor, should I add, use it directly to destroy host cells more efficiently. Or just plain target and twist cancer-resistant-programmed cells awry? Or, (shhh!) "evolve", and use this logic to protect itself from all and sundry?

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