Hai-Quan Mao from Johns Hopkins and Erik Luijten from Northwestern University have discovered how to control the shape of nanoparticles that move DNA through the body and have shown that the shapes of these carriers may make a big difference in how well they work in treating cancer and other diseases.
This illustration depicts DNA molecules (light green), packaged into nanoparticles by using a polymer with two different segments. One segment (teal) carries a positive charge that binds it to the DNA, and the other (brown) forms a protective coating on the particle surface. By adjusting the solvent surrounding these molecules, the Johns Hopkins and Northwestern researchers were able to control the shape of the nanoparticles. The team’s animal tests showed that a nanoparticle’s shape could dramatically affect how effectively it delivers gene therapy to the cells. The cartoon images in the foreground, obtained though computational modeling, matched closely with the gray background images, which were collected through transmission electron microscopy.
Credits: Wei Qu, Northwestern University, simulation cartoons; Xuan Jiang, Johns Hopkins University, microscopic images.
This study, published in the Oct. 12 online edition of Advanced Materials, is also noteworthy because this gene therapy technique does not use a virus to carry DNA into cells. Some gene therapy efforts that rely on viruses have posed health risks.