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Feb. 7: Mechanical Engineering Researcher Says Artificial Cells Could Fight Disease

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Chriss Swaney
412-268-5776


Carnegie Mellon Mechanical Engineering Researcher
Proposes Development of Artificial Cells To Fight Disease    

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Philip LeDuc predicts the use of artificially created cells could be a potential new therapeutic approach for treating diseases in an ever-changing world.     Philip LeDuc

LeDuc, an assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, penned an article for the January edition of Nature Nanotechnology Journal about the efficacy of using man-made cells to treat diseases without injecting drugs. This idea was developed by a team of researchers from disciplines including biology, chemistry and engineering during an exciting conference organized by the National Academies and the Keck Foundation for developing new disease-fighting approaches for the future.

"Our proposal is to use naturally available molecules to create pseudo-cell factories where we create a super artificial cell capable of targeting and treating whatever is ailing the body. The human cell is like a bustling metropolis, and we aim to tap the energy and diversity of the processes in a human cell to help the body essentially heal itself," LeDuc said.   

Because the cell is an amazingly efficient system already, LeDuc and his team of researchers plan to use its microscopic package of tightly organized parts to improve medical treatment in diseases that exist in the body.     

According to LeDuc's journal article, the living cell operates much like a tiny industrial complex. His article proposes using the processes in a cell, such as the membrane, to create an enclosed functioning environment for a nanofactory. Then, by using other biologically inspired processes like molecular-binding and transport, the pseudo-cell can target, modify and deliver chemicals that the body needs to function properly.

In contrast to traditional drug-discovery ideas, where the product is delivered many times into the body, this journal article suggests using molecules that are already in the body and modifying these nanoscale systems to produce the biochemicals deficient in the body to help fight disease.     

"Understanding both the nature of a cell as an independent unit and its role in the life processes of larger organisms is crucial in our quest to duplicate the molecular units which form the building blocks of the cell and its parts," LeDuc said. "We see this development of artificial cells as a building block for a variety of new and exciting therapeutic approaches."

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