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Simulated gene therapy
Date:4/29/2009

, including synthetic molecules like "dendrimers," a word that derives from the Greek word for "tree." Similar to trees, dendrimers are branching molecules that are slightly positively charged. This allows them to be loaded with DNA (which is slightly negative charged) for insertion into a cell.

Dendrimers seem to offer many advantages over viruses. They may be much less toxic, and they may offer other advantages in terms of cost, ease of production, and the ability to transport very long genes. If they can be designed to efficiently -- and safely -- shuttle genes into human cells, then they may be a more practical solution to gene therapy than viruses.

So far, laboratory experiments with different types of dendrimers have shown that they can insert genes into cells, but only with very low efficiency. Hoping to discover the key to improving this efficiency, Voulgarakis and his colleagues simulated the detailed, atomic-level physical process of dendrimers entering cells. They varied parameters like the dendrimer size and the length of the DNA they carry. Modeling these parameters on a computer is a fast, inexpensive approach for testing different ideas and optimizing the delivery vehicle.

What they uncovered were the key factors that determine the success of dendrimers as gene delivery vehicles -- things like the charges of the dendrimers and their target cell membranes, the length of DNA, and the concentration of surrounding salt. Their work has illuminated some of the molecular-level details that should help clinicians design the most appropriate gene vectors.

"Our study indicates that, over a broad range of biological conditions, the dendrimer/nucleic acid package will be stable enough to remain on the surface of the cell until translocation," says Voulgarakis.

Dendrimers are also used clinically for delivering cancer drugs to tumors, and for helping to image the human body. In the future, Voulgarakis and his colleague
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Contact: Jason Bardi
jbardi@aip.org
301-209-3091
American Institute of Physics
Source:Eurekalert

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