Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Purdue corrals new Trojan horse to replace wayward genes in mice


A research team at two Midwest universities has developed a new way to genetically alter cells in living mice, offering new possibilities in the war against cancer and other diseases.

Using a modified virus as a Trojan horse, a team led by Purdue University’s David Sanders has found a promising system to deliver genes to diseased liver and brain cells. By placing helpful genetic material within the outer protein shell of Ross River Virus (RRV), Sanders’ team was able to alter the mice’s liver cells without producing the harmful side effects that have accompanied the use of other retroviruses.

"This represents a major advance in that we have used retroviruses for gene therapy, not just in tissue samples, but in living mice," said Sanders, associate professor of biological sciences at Purdue. "This brings us a giant step closer to treating human diseases."

The research, which is a collaboration between Purdue and the University of Iowa, appeared in the September issue of the Journal of Virology.

Gene therapy is the introduction of new genetic material into an organism for medical benefit, such as correcting the genetic defect responsible for cystic fibrosis. It also can be used to alter or destroy defective cells, which makes gene therapy a possible treatment method for cancer. Viruses play a key role in this fledgling field because of their natural ability to transport and transfer genetic material.

While viruses are often looked upon as harmful, their ability to introduce genes into cells gives them great potential as delivery vehicles for therapeutic genes. Ordinarily, a virus injects its own genetic material into a cell, but viral researchers have learned how to "borrow" the outer shell from a harmful virus and fill it up with other, beneficial genetic material.

The chimeric viruses that Sanders’ group constructed consist of an outer shell taken from the RRV alphavirus, which typically infects Australian marsupials. The RRV shell allowed the group to solve two problems that have plagued viral researchers for some time: how to treat living organisms (rather than merely samples of tissue in a test tube) and how to avoid causing damage to those organisms while rebuilding their cells.

"Up until this point, a lot of gene therapy research was being done with a retrovirus coated with a protein called vesicular stomatitis virus G," Sanders said. "It has a protein shell that binds to just about any kind of cell, which is terrific if you want lots of options for gene therapy. The trouble is, the proteins are toxic to most cells as well, which is, of course, not so good."

When the team of Beverly Davidson and Paul McCray at the University of Iowa injected its homemade retrovirus into healthy mice, it proved highly effective at introducing new genes into livers. Just as encouraging was the discovery that during the DNA modification process, the retroviruses did not damage the liver cells.

"Not only were the genes successfully transferred, but the RRV envelope proteins did not damage the cells," Sanders said. "We succeeded on both fronts."

Because RRV can be injected intravenously and can bind to such a large number of cells, Sanders said he believes the technique could be useful for a range of illnesses. One promising target is glial cells in the brain, which provide structural support for neurons. Most brain tumors occur in glial cells, which form most of the brain’s mass.

"This research shows that RRV has tremendous utility, especially for treating the liver," Sanders said. "But because of its ability to target glial cells, RRV can also potentially be used for a number of muscular and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and brain tumors."

Another potential application is delivering protein products directly into the bloodstream, which could lead to treatments for blood disorders.

"This is the direction we need to explore next," Sanders said. "If we can use retroviruses to carry therapeutic proteins directly to the bloodstream, it could provide treatments for hemophilia."

Sanders emphasizes that while the work is a leap forward for gene therapy, it will be several years before the technique is ready for human testing.

"I don’t imagine having clinical trials on human diseases for at least five years – there’s still a lot to be done," he said. "What we have done is found a great stepping stone. It should encourage other researchers to search for alternative virus shells for gene delivery."

This work is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Indiana Elks Charities Inc. and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Sanders conducts research, in part, at the Purdue Cancer Research Center, which coordinates interdisciplinary cancer-related research in the basic biomedical and life sciences. The center, established in 1976, provides shared resources for nearly 70 research groups on the West Lafayette and other Purdue campuses.

The Purdue Cancer Center is supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Cancer Society, the Indiana Elks, the Indiana Lions Clubs and several local county cancer societies. The Purdue Cancer Research Center is a NCI designated basic laboratory research center.

Writer: Chad Boutin, (765) 494-2081,

Sources: David Sanders, (765) 494-6453,

Beverly Davidson, (319) 353-5511,
Paul McCray, (319) 356-4866,

Chad Boutin | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>