Home / News / November 17, 2012; Vol.182 #10

Evil geniuses, commence drooling. Scientists have figured out how to remotely control a cell’s self-destruction. Magnets that guide the behavior of tiny metal beads can be used to flip on a cell’s death switch, kick-starting the cell’s demolition. The approach might one day be used to kill cancer cells or orchestrate other cellular events without drugs or incisions.

In the past, scientists have explored killing cancer using tiny iron-containing nanoparticles that latch onto malignant cells and heat up when exposed to a magnetic field. In the new work, a bit of protein guides each nanoparticle to death receptor 4, an aptly named handle on the outside of a cell that acts as a molecular doomsday switch. Exposing the cells to a magnetic field makes the nanoparticles clump together. This clumping pulls together the three molecular prongs that make up the switch, activating it and triggering a process that leads to the cell’s demise.

The scientists from Yonsei University in South Korea tried the approach with a dish of colon cancer cells. Within 24 hours, more than half of the cells exposed to the magnetic field were dead, the team reports online October 7 in Nature Materials.

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