From where Hana El-Samad sits, much of human disease looks like a problem of malfunctioning feedback loops. Take traumatic brain injury. The brain needs inflammation to heal, but runaway inflammation causes cognitive impairment. How can a doctor know when to start and stop anti-inflammatory medication? El-Samad and her collaborators have a solution: replace traditional drug delivery with programmable molecular toolkits that deliver a payload inside the diseased organ only when their built-in sensors tell them it’s needed. They’ve inserted prototype toolkits into yeast; mammalian immune system cells are next. El-Samad is working to bring about a revolution in which scratch-built, programmable biological circuits harness the machinery of the cells in a safe and controllable way to correct dysfunction or destroy errant cells.
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- Hana el-SamadKuo Family Endowed Professor and vice chair in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco