The researchers developed methods to rapidly optimize and test new polymers for their ability to form DNA nanoparticles and deliver DNA. They then chemically modified the very ends of the degradable polymer chains, using a library of different small molecules.
Just by changing a couple of atoms at the end of a long polymer, one can dramatically change its performance, said Anderson. These minor alterations in polymer composition significantly increase the polymers' ability to deliver DNA, and these new materials are now the best non-viral DNA delivery systems we've tested.
The polymers have already been shown to be safe in mice, and the researchers hope to ultimately run clinical trials with their modified polymers, said Anderson.
Non-viral vectors could prove not only safer than viruses but also more effective in some cases. The polymers can carry a larger DNA payload than viruses, and they may avoid the immune system, which could allow multiple therapeutic applications if needed, said Green.
One promising line of research involves ovarian cancer, where the MIT researchers, in conjunction with Janet Sawicki at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, have demonstrated that these polymer-DNA nanoparticles can deliver DNA at high levels to ovarian tumors without harming healthy tissue.
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology