DURHAM, N.C. Duke University bioengineers have not only figured out a way to sneak molecular spies through the walls of individual cells, they can now slip them into the command center -- or nucleus -- of those cells, where they can report back important information or drop off payloads.
Using silver nanoparticles cloaked in a protein from the HIV virus that has an uncanny ability to penetrate human cells, the scientists have demonstrated that they can enter the inner workings of the nucleus and detect subtle light signals from the "spy."
In order for these nano-spies to be effective, they not only need to get through the cell's first line of defense -- the cell wall -- they must be able to enter the nucleus.
The ultimate goal is to be able to spot the earliest possible moment when the genetic material within a cell begins to turn abnormal, leading to a host of disorders, especially cancer.
The finding also shows how drugs or other payloads might be delivered directly into the nucleus.
"This new method of getting into and detecting exactly what is going on in the nucleus of cell has distinct advantages over current methods," said Molly Gregas, a graduate student in the laboratory of Tuan Vo-Dinh, R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, professor of chemistry and director of The Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.
"The ability to place these nanoparticles into a cell's nucleus and gather information using light has potential implications for the selective treatment of disease," Gregas said. "We envision that this approach will also help basic scientists as they try to better understand what occurs within a cell's nucleus."
The Duke researchers reported their findings in a series of papers, culminating in the latest issue of Nanomedicine, which was published online. The research was supported by the National
|Contact: Richard Merritt|