Researchers at Purdue University have shown that common bacteria can deliver a valuable cargo of "smart nanoparticles" into a cell to precisely position sensors, drugs or DNA for the early diagnosis and treatment of various diseases.
The approach represents a potential way to overcome hurdles in delivering cargo to the interiors of cells, where they could be used as an alterative technology for gene therapy, said Rashid Bashir, a researcher at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center.
The researchers attached nanoparticles to the outside of bacteria and linked DNA to the nanoparticles. Then the nanoparticle-laden bacteria transported the DNA to the nuclei of cells, causing the cells to produce a fluorescent protein that glowed green. The same method could be used to deliver drugs, genes or other cargo into cells.
"The released cargo is designed to be transported to different locations in the cells to carry out disease detection and treatment simultaneously," said Bashir, a professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "Because the bacteria and nanoparticle material can be selected from many choices, this is a delivery system that can be tailored to the characteristics of the receiving cells. It can deliver diagnostic or therapeutic cargo effectively for a wide range of needs."
Harmless strains of bacteria could be used as vehicles, harnessing bacteria's natural ability to penetrate cells and their nuclei, Bashir said.
"For gene therapy, a big obstacle has been finding ways to transport the therapeutic DNA molecule through the nuclear membrane and into the nucleus," he said. "Only when it is in the nucleus can the DNA produce proteins that perform specific functions and correct genetic disease conditions."
When the cargo-carrying bacteria attach to the recipient cell they are engulfed by its outer membrane, forming "vesicles," or tiny spheres th