Nanoparticles seen as gene therapy advance

Oct. 16, 2012 at 8:30 PM
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EVANSTON, Ill., Oct. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've discovered how to control the shape of nanoparticles that can move DNA through the body to treat cancer and other diseases.

A gene therapy technique utilizing nanoparticles is significant in that it does not use a virus to carry DNA into cells, as some gene therapy strategies relying on viruses have posed health risks, researchers at Northwestern University and John Hopkins University reported.

"These nanoparticles could become a safer and more effective delivery vehicle for gene therapy, targeting genetic diseases, cancer and other illnesses that can be treated with gene medicine," John Hopkins material science Professor Hai-Quan Mao said.

Mao, who has been developing non-viral nanoparticles for gene therapy for a decade, said a major breakthrough is the ability to "tune" the particles in three shapes, resembling rods, worms and spheres, which mimic the shapes and sizes of viral particles.

The nanoparticles carry healthy snippets of DNA within protective polymer coatings and are designed to deliver their genetic payload only after they have moved through the bloodstream and entered the target cells, prompting the cells to produce functional proteins that combat disease.

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