Modelling the Next Generation Treatment for Cancer and Tuberculosis

How I used DNA Nanotechnology to Design and Self-Assemble a 3D Nanostructure for Targeted Drug Delivery


DNA, the more common term for Deoxyribonucleic acid, is essentially the recipe book for our entire body. It is a molecule that stores the genetic instructions for the four main aspects of living things: development, function, growth and reproduction.

  • Adenine — the DNA base is labelled ‘A’ and often colour-coded green
  • Thymine — the base is ‘T’ and colour-coded red
  • Guanine — the base is labelled ‘G’ and colour-coded blue
  • Cytosine — the base is labelled ‘C’ and colour-coded yellow

DNA ≠ Nanotechnology. Unless…

For everyone who watched my video or understands the basics of nanotechnology, you know that the entire field of nanotechnology is based on the control and manipulation of matter at the nanoscale. For those of you who haven’t watched it, here you go).

DNA Nanotechnology

DNA nanotechnology is a pretty big sub-field of nanotechnology, with its whole purpose being to use DNA as engineering materials to design and manufacture nanostructures for specific uses.

  1. Using it as an arrangement tool for other molecules — applications in biology, chemistry, enzymes, protein folding and nanoelectronics and more
  2. Performing in action in the body using the nanostructure, taking advantage of its superior biocompatibility — applications in targeted drug delivery, disease diagnostics, countless disease treatments, mimicking membrane proteins and more

So, what does it solve?

An important thing to keep in mind is that DNA nanotechnology is just a biocompatible version of normal nanofabrication. It goes without saying that almost all of its applications lie in nanomedicine, where the DNA aspect makes the most difference. That said, while these nanostructures can technically be used for all the applications in the human body, they have their limitations and they excel in a few key fields.

What I Did — Step 1: Design

The first step to actually building a DNA origami nanostructure is deciding exactly which 2D or 3D shape you want to build. This can depend on a number of factors, the most prominent one being what is the desired impact of this experiment? If applicable, which diseases can it help cure?

What I did — Step 2: Modelling

Now comes the most defining stage in this entire process, modelling the 3D shape in a program called caDNAno. There are a lot of parts in this stage and it is very complex, so I am going to explain what each part does and how it works.

A single cube face
All four side faces
All four side faces plus the bottom face
All six cube faces, all interconnected and ready for self-assembly


I learned so much from this project and I had lots of fun at the same time. If you want to see the final product and watch its self-assembly, make sure to click the video below.



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Aahaan Maini

16-year-old ML dev currently building Circulate to tackle the blood shortage in India