A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created nanoparticles that act as miniature light-activated protein factories in animal studies, and could be developed to manufacture and deliver drugs, in research published in Nanoletters in March and covered this week in The Scientist.
The holy grail of drug delivery is to get drugs to the right place at the right time, in the right amounts, and in the case of protein therapeutics, without them being destroyed by the liver or the gut. The tiny lipid spheres could meet these requirements. The researchers have filled them with the machinery needed to build proteins--amino acids, polymerases and ribosomes from the bacterium Escherichia coli, along with a DNA plasmid to produce the protein of choice--surrounded by a photolabile (light-sensitive) cage that acts as an "on-switch."
In mouse studies, the particles, described by the researchers as "nanofactories," were able to produce green fluorescent protein (GFP) and enzymatically active luciferase, triggered by a very short flash of UV light. What makes this exciting? Being able to control the timing of protein expression in an animal, and do it remotely, Mitchel Doktycz, a synthetic biologist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, explained to The Scientist.
Lead investigator Daniel Anderson said to The Scientist: "We have a long way to go still before we have a drug factory that will land in a target tissue to produce a drug of interest," noted Anderson. Issues that need to be addressed are adding in an "off-switch" to stop protein production, and translating the research from animals to humans. If this made it into humans (and it is still at a very early stage) it could allow protein production to be activated remotely, perhaps at a specific time such as insulin after a meal, or in a particular location, for example at a tumor site, to delivery drug delivery locally and avoid systemic side effects.
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