Artificial virus promises effective drug delivery and gene therapy

The formation of a protein coat around DNA to form an artificial virus--Courtesy of Wageningen University

Dutch scientists from several different universities have collaborated to develop what could be useful as a drug delivery vehicle: an artificial virus with the ability to protect DNA and large molecules as they enter a cell.

Viral vectors have been used for years to deliver genetic material into cells, but using a real virus comes with a host of challenges, most often associated with a patient's immune response. Even with current technology available to render the viruses harmless, they still come with imperfections that can make the delivery tricky or even dangerous. But by creating an artificial virus that mimics the real thing, the team was able to carry gene therapies and large molecules into a cell, avoiding many of the problems associated with vectors.

The team comprised members from Wageningen University, the University of Leiden, Eindhoven University of Technology and Radboud University Nijmegen--all located in the Netherlands.

To construct the faux virus, the researchers created a viral "coat" out of proteins inspired by natural protein blocks such as silk and collagen using natural yeast cells. Similar to the machinery of natural viruses, this coat formed a protective barrier around DNA molecules, giving the vehicle the ability to safely transport the material across a cell membrane.

In the study, the imitation virus acted similar to the natural tobacco mosaic virus.

"Viruses are among the simplest biological systems and are highly effective vehicles for the delivery of genetic material into susceptible host cells," the team, led by Arnando Hernandez-Garcia, wrote in the abstract published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. "Artificial viruses can be used as model systems for providing insights into natural viruses and can be considered a testing ground for developing artificial life. Moreover, they are used in biomedical and biotechnological applications, such as targeted delivery of nucleic acids for gene therapy and as scaffolds in material science."

- here's the Wageningen announcement
- and here's the abstract