"Delivering these microRNAs into human patients is a much trickier proposition than working on cell cultures and has never been done," Gunaratne said. "Other types of gene therapy have been delivered with modified viruses in clinical trials, but ongoing safety concerns will likely prevent its widespread use."
However, Gunaratne believes gold, which is biocompatible and easily functionalized to carry hundreds of microRNAs on the surface, can act as an effective carrier of genetic molecules. In lab tests, gold nanoparticles containing miR-31 penetrated 90 percent of targeted cells within 20 minutes, killing cancer cells three times faster than microRNAs delivered through lentiviruses, which are traditionally used in carrying gene-based treatments to diseased cells.
The next step is to test these microRNA-conjugated gold particles on tumors in mice to see if they can be delivered orally or through injection to shrink the tumors. If all goes as planned, this potentially revolutionary ovarian cancer treatment could be ready for Phase One clinical trials in humans at the end of the two-year CPRIT grant, Gunaratne said.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth deadliest cancer among women, with about 15,000 deaths annually in the United States. Thus far, in cancer treatment generally, genetic markers have been helpful in assessing cancer patients' risk and channeling them into the most effective treatment options. If scientists like Gunaratne are successful, doctors will go beyond just observing and reacting to a cancer patient's gene expression to actually changing it, activating the body's natural tumor suppressants. This could make chemotherapy a thing of the past.
"Although ovarian tumors are the focus of this project, our microRNA research is applicable to other cancers and diseases, too," Gunaratne said. "Because a single microRNA can regulate hundreds
|Contact: Lisa Merkl|
University of Houston