Current treatments for diseases like cancer typically destroy nasty malignant cells, while also hammering the healthy ones. Using new advances in synthetic biology, researchers are designing molecules intelligent enough to recognize diseased cells, leaving the healthy cells alone.
"We basically design molecules that actually go into the cell and do an analysis of the cellular state before delivering the therapeutic punch," said Christina Smolke, assistant professor of bioengineering who joined Stanford University in January.
"When you look at a diseased cell (e.g. a cancer cell) and compare it to a normal cell, you can identify biomarkerschanges in the abundance of proteins or other biomolecule levelsin the diseased cell," Smolke said. Her research team has designed molecules that trigger cell death only in the presence of such markers. "A lot of the trick with developing effective therapeutics is the ability to target and localize the therapeutic effect, while minimizing nonspecific side effects," she said.
Smolke will present the latest applications of her lab's work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago on Friday, Feb. 13.
These designer molecules are created through RNA-based technologies that Smolke's lab developed at the California Institute of Technology. A recent example of these systems, developed with postdoctoral researcher Maung Nyan Win (who joined Smolke in her move to Stanford), was described in a paper published in the Oct. 17, 2008, issue of Science.
"We do our design on the computer and pick out sequences that are predicted to behave the way we like," Smolke said. When researchers generate these sequences inside the operating system of a cell, they reprogram the cell and change its function. "Building these molecules out of RNA gives us a very programmable and therefore powerful design substrate," she said.
Smolke's team focuses on well-researched model systems in
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|