"The idea is that if this protein can be reintroduced into the cancer cell without damaging the cell this protein might cause the death of the cancer cells. That would be a therapeutic tool using our method."
Drug development to treat specific ailments where a medicinal compound could be delivered into a cell is another potential use, he said.
His team derived the method from decades old knowledge of research on the HIV virus, which found a toxic protein that was able to go from one infected cell to an uninfected cell. Peptides derived from that protein have been studied for their ability to penetrate cells.
"Our contribution has been to take those compounds that work at very low efficiency and all of a sudden increase their efficiency dramatically. It took a clever guess and also luck to find the compounds that worked really, really well," he said of his team at Texas A&M which included Alfredo Erazo-Oliveras, Kristina Najjar, Laila Dayani, Ting-Yi Wang and Gregory Johnson.
He likened the discovery to "creating a Trojan horse for the cell."
"We are able to hijack the cell, and then use the cellchemistry to get those reagents to come out of what would be the equivalent of a Trojan horse," he said. "It is a little bit like kicking through the door. Usually, in kicking to get inside the cell the door is damaged.
"Because of that, it's a gamble. A lot of people were hesitant to make those reagents more effective because of the danger of what can happen to the cell. In other words, yes, you may get in the cell, but if you destroy the membrane and kill the cell, what good is that?
"The surprise in our work is that despite being extremely efficient, despite presumably 'kicking through the door' and getting inside, the cell is okay," he said. "We don
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Texas A&M AgriLife Communications