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Molecular hitchhiker on human protein signals tumors to self-destruct

Powerful molecules can hitch rides on a plentiful human protein and signal tumors to self-destruct, a team of Vanderbilt University engineers found.

Their research gives oncologists a better shot at overcoming the problems of drug resistance, toxicity to patients and a host of other barriers to consistently achieving successful gene therapy for cancer. It is particularly promising for patients with triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive type that makes up about 15-20 percent of cases.

Craig Duvall, associate professor of biomedical engineering, put the effectiveness of a specialized ribonucleic acid hitchhiking on the human protein albumin up against jetPEI nanoparticles, the mostly widely used synthetic carrier for the task of tumor gene silencing.

His findings, reached with Samantha Sarett, a recent biomedical engineering Ph.D. graduate, are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ribonucleic acids can control the behavior of cancer cells, but they require a carrier to get them to the target. Duvall’s team made a simple modification to a small-interfering ribonucleic acid molecule, called siRNA-L2, allowing it to rapidly load into an albumin pocket typically reserved to ferry fatty acids around the body.