Cholesterol 'rafts' enable cancer-killing delivery of DNA, RNA

Researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center have developed a way to get DNA and RNA to enter and destroy cancer cells using molecular "rafts" as a delivery mechanism.

Working with a new understanding of the cell membrane structure, in which proteins are organized into clusters that perform particular functions, the scientists created cholesterol-heavy particles called rafts to allow the safe delivery of nucleic acids across the cancer cell barrier. By introducing cholesterol to the delivery particle, the researchers were able to send it across these parts of the membrane.

Unrafted particles, on the other hand, are quickly coated with blood proteins on their way to the cell, and the membrane proteins are unable to communicate with the membrane to gain access. Because these blood proteins don't bind to the rafts, the shepherded DNA and RNA remain uncoated and can reprogram cancer cells from the inside.

"There are many promising therapeutic applications for nucleic acids, but because they can't diffuse across cell membranes on their own, delivery to cancer cells has been a major challenge," said CU Cancer Center's Tom Anchordoquy. "Our method is a promising way to get these drugs inside cancer cells where they can do their work."

This method of delivery may also be used as a way to determine how much of a drug has reached the cells by inserting a gene that illuminates cells, telling the scientists exactly how much of the payload went in.

- here's the CU Cancer Center's report