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Body, Heal Thyself

Artificial Cells Could Replace Drug Therapy


With popular medications being pulled from the shelves, the high cost of prescriptions and the risk of adverse drug interactions, an alternative to drug therapy can't come too soon.

Carnegie Mellon Assistant Professor Philip LeDuc proposes an approach that uses molecules already in the body and modifies them to produce the biochemicals necessary for fighting disease.  

"The human cell is like a bustling metropolis," said LeDuc. "We aim to tap the energy and diversity of the processes in a human cell to help the body essentially heal itself."

The idea was developed by LeDuc and an interdisciplinary team of researchers at a conference organized by the National Academies and the Keck Foundation. The event was aimed at developing new disease-fighting approaches for the future.

An assistant professor of mechanical engineering with courtesy appointments in biomedical engineering and biological sciences, LeDuc explained the idea in the recently published journal Nature Nanotechnology.  His commentary describes the living cell as operating much like a tiny industrial complex.

He and his fellow researchers propose using the cell 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 and transform chemicals already in the body into chemicals that the body can use to function properly.

"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 potential path of developing artificial cells as a building block for a variety of new and exciting therapeutic approaches."

Related Links: Mechanical Engineering  |  Biomedical Engineering

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