Nanoparticles synthesize protein on demand

Summary:Researchers at MIT have developed 'protein factories' that could have wide-ranging effects in drug treatment.

Cancer-treating drugs have shown promise, but due to the body's natural process of breaking down the protein which makes up the treatment before it reaches its destination, they are often difficult to deliver.

However, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new, innovative type of nanoparticle that can synthesize proteins on demand -- therefore removing the obstacle of protein being processed before it has reached its desired location.

Once these "protein-factory" particles have reached their target -- such as a cancerous cell -- the researchers can switch on the protein synthesis by shining ultraviolet light on the particles to activate the process.

Avi Schroeder, a postdoc in MIT's David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research believes the particles could be used to deliver proteins to destroy cancerous cells, and eventually larger proteins could be transported to deliver antibodies that trigger the immune system to destroy tumors.

"This is the first proof of concept that you can actually synthesize new compounds from inert starting materials inside the body." says Schroeder.

The nanoparticles were designed through mixing lipids, ribosomes, amino acids and the enzymes required for protein synthesis. This collection of chemicals allows the nanoparticles to self-assemble; while a compound called DMNPE (1-(4,5-dimethoxy-2-nitrophenyl)ethyl) binds DNA sequences for the desired proteins until it is released by ultraviolet light.

Schroeder explained:

"You want to be able to trigger it so the system turns on only when you want it to work. When the particles are hit by light, the DNA is released from a caging compound and then can enter the cycle of producing the protein."

In this study, particles were programmed to produce either green fluorescent protein or luciferase, both of which are easily detected. Tests in mice showed that the particles managed to successfully produce protein when UV light was shone on them.

The MIT researchers are now focusing on developing particles that can synthesize cancer-fighting drugs. As these compounds often prove toxic to both healthy and cancerous cells, it is hoped this delivery method will result in more targeted treatment -- potentially minimizing the damage often associated with treating cancer, such as chemotherapy's side effects.

(via MIT)

Image credit: MIT


This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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