Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Engineers create intelligent molecules that seek-and-destroy diseased cells

16.02.2009
Current treatments for diseases like cancer typically destroy nasty malignant cells, while also hammering the healthy ones. Using new advances in synthetic biology, researchers are designing molecules intelligent enough to recognize diseased cells, leaving the healthy cells alone.

"We basically design molecules that actually go into the cell and do an analysis of the cellular state before delivering the therapeutic punch," said Christina Smolke, assistant professor of bioengineering who joined Stanford University in January.

"When you look at a diseased cell (e.g. a cancer cell) and compare it to a normal cell, you can identify biomarkers—changes in the abundance of proteins or other biomolecule levels—in the diseased cell," Smolke said. Her research team has designed molecules that trigger cell death only in the presence of such markers. "A lot of the trick with developing effective therapeutics is the ability to target and localize the therapeutic effect, while minimizing nonspecific side effects," she said.

Smolke will present the latest applications of her lab's work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago on Friday, Feb. 13.

These designer molecules are created through RNA-based technologies that Smolke's lab developed at the California Institute of Technology. A recent example of these systems, developed with postdoctoral researcher Maung Nyan Win (who joined Smolke in her move to Stanford), was described in a paper published in the Oct. 17, 2008, issue of Science.

"We do our design on the computer and pick out sequences that are predicted to behave the way we like," Smolke said. When researchers generate these sequences inside the operating system of a cell, they reprogram the cell and change its function. "Building these molecules out of RNA gives us a very programmable and therefore powerful design substrate," she said.

Smolke's team focuses on well-researched model systems in breast, prostate and brain cancers, including immunotherapy applications based on reprogramming human immune response to different diseases. The researchers work directly with clinicians at the City of Hope Cancer Center (a National Cancer Institute designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.) that have ongoing immunotherapy trials for treating glioma, a severe type of brain cancer.

"Our goal is to make more effective therapies by taking advantage of the natural capabilities of our immune system and introducing slight modifications in cases where it is not doing what we would like it to do," Smolke said. She hopes to translate her technologies into intelligent cellular therapeutics for glioma patients in the next five years. "That's a very optimistic view," she said. "But so far things have been moving quickly."

The broader implications for using intelligent molecules in immunotherapy and gene therapy seem limitless. Researchers and doctors can use this approach by targeting a specific cellular function or behavior they want to control in a particular disease. Then they can identify signals indicative of viral infection, host immune response, or drugs the clinician is administering and engineer the molecules to change the cell function in response to those signals.

"In a lot of therapies, you have nonspecific side effects or you're balancing the desired effect of the therapy on diseased cells or infection with its undesired effects on the entire host," Smolke said. Current chemotherapy treatments for cancer, and even many gene therapies, have drastic and debilitating consequences for patients. The designer molecules provide a whole new targeting accuracy that should mitigate these side effects.

"This is all very front-end work," Smolke said. "We've just started to move these foundational technologies into these sorts of downstream medical applications, and so there is a lot to learn … which makes it that much more exciting."

Smolke's work is funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense and the Beckman Foundation.

At the AAAS meeting, Smolke will present her work alongside Drew Endy, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, as part of the Synthetic Life symposium.

Endy, who joined Stanford last fall, will discuss the societal and safety implications of molecular synthesis technology. This includes the consequences of researchers moving toward building registries for standard biological parts and the education aspects of iGEM—an international forum where student teams compete to design and assemble engineered machines using advanced genetic components and technologies—which has led to the training of a new generation of scientists and bioengineers. Stanford will be hosting its first iGEM team this year. Endy will also discuss his efforts, along with colleagues, to start fabrication facilities focused on churning out libraries of open-access biological parts and the resulting implications for biological engineering.

Louis Bergeron | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.stanford.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>