A new nanoparticle that delivers synthetic genetic instructions into cells in one step could enable temporary gene therapy.
The nanocarrier could be used to program immune cells to attack cancer, or to enhance the function of the stem cells that give rise to new cell types, says Matthias Stephan, a professor of medicine and bioengineering at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. Any application requiring an impermanent change in cell function is fair game, Stephan says. “There are certain applications where you actually must not have constant gene expression, but you must have a transient gene expression,” he says.
Cell therapy uses living cells to fight disease. Old-school examples are blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants. The emergence of genetic engineering allows researchers to now reprogram cells to take on more-complex tasks.
Typically, doctors slip therapeutic cellular instructions into the body’s cells by attaching them to lentiviruses, which hijack the cell’s machinery and force the cell to follow the therapeutic genetic instructions. Making those kinds of treatments temporary is challenging and expensive, and requires steps like electroporation, which uses an electric field to make cell membranes more permeable to the engineered viruses. Electroporation is fatal to a...
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