The age of molecular-scale computing is entering a new era, thanks to the development of a system that uses synthetic proteins and Boolean logic to identify cancer cells.
The proteins can lock onto chemical markers on the surface of cells in predetermined combinations, performing the roles of logical AND, OR and NOT gates. It’s similar to the way binary computers do their thing, but with biochemistry rather than electronic bits.
“We were trying to solve a key problem in medicine, which is how to target specific cells in a complex environment,” Marc Lajoie, one of the lead authors of a study published today in the journal Science, explained in a news release.
“Unfortunately, most cells lack a single surface marker that is unique to just them. So, to improve cell targeting, we created a way to direct almost any biological function to any cell by going after combinations of cell surface markers,” Lajoie said.
Lajoie worked on the effort during his stint as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design. He’s now co-director for protein and cell engineering at Lyell Immunopharma, a California-based startup aiming to commercialize the technique.