For some diseases and conditions, the pharmaceuticals that can do the most good aren’t needed all the time. Unused drugs may flush through the body, at times with no deleterious effects, but in too many cases they can cause negative side effects. Drugs needed by one organ or location in the body that are delivered throughout the body have the potential to cause other problems.  Often additional drugs are prescribed to counter the harm from primary medications. Drug timing and delivery only when and where needed remains an elusive goal for many medical applications.

Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute developed “targeted therapeutic responses” via robotic devices constructed of DNA strands. Called “DNA origami nanobots,” the intended application of the Wyss work involved seeking cancer cells. The nanobots would cause the cancer cells to self-destruct via pharmaceutical delivery devices that would only work in the cell locations with specific DNA receptors. Other groups around the world have built on the Wyss nanorobot work.

A group of Israeli researchers from UBar-Ilan University recently published a paper on their work creating and testing thought-controlled nanorobots in a separate living host. Designed as a “demonstration and proof of concept,” the scientists work has direct application with bioactive payloads of psychoactive drugs that would only need to be released when a patient was in a specific mental state. This technology could be help with schizophrenia, depression or other mental disorders. The pharmaceuticals would only be released when the patient’s measured brain activity matched disorder patterns. Another potential example with ADHD patients would be the release based on brain wave activity of Ritalin or Adderall only when needed.

The demonstration project consisted of constructing clamshell-like structures that keep materials in one place but open to allow exposure and drug release into the system when the corresponding signals were received. Specifically, the researchers placed the clamshell nanorobots inside cockroach bellies. The nanorobots contained material that would cause fluorescence within the cockroach when released. Specific EEG patterns were the trigger cause to allow the nanorobots to open. A human wearing an EEG cap was seated next to the cockroach, which was placed inside an electromagnetic coil. The human shifted EEG patterns by  “performing vigorous mental arithmetic” or relaxing.

The success of thought control between species from this experiment is a step in the direction of eventually being able to test controlled release DNA nanorobots that can only attach where needed and only release pharmaceuticals when they will be efficacious.