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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Molecular Manipulation

Published November 14, 2013 2:37 PM by Michael Jones

Molecular engineering has been a favorite topic for socio-political science fiction writers all over the world. Similarly, the concept of manipulating viruses to fight other infections or disease -- in this case, cancers -- stretches even beyond the ideas of those authors into a whole new territory of treatment options. According to a recent article from Medical News Today, researchers from Purdue University have engineered the Sindbis virus (ESV1) to target cancer cells.

“We have now overcome a major challenge by not only inserting a targeting molecule of our choice, but also successfully stripping the virus of its native entry preferences,” said Richard Kuhn, PhD, Gerald and Edna Mann director of the department of biological sciences at Purdue University. “This was a big step in unlocking the potential of developing this virus into a platform for both targeted drug delivery, where it would sneak drugs inside cancers cells, and oncolytic virotherapy, where the virus itself destroys cancer cells.”

Kuhn and his research team were funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their experiments used rational design procedures to introduce different factors and agents into the molecular structure of the virus, which allowed them to change its functions as necessary in the fight against cancer cells. According to the story, the researchers added human epidermal growth factors (EGF) to the virus and secured by changing some of the virus’ amino acids. Since cancer cells are already extremely receptive of EGF, the virus is able to slip in as the factors bind to the cells.

“We’ve now reached the point where we can easily change the virus to carry a variety of cargos and to seek out specific types of cells,” continued Kuhn. “We know where and how to add the characteristics we want and eliminate those that we do not.”

ESV1 was the culmination of trial-and-error-style experimenting in which the most effective versions of the virus were then cloned. The story went on to not that, although the virus is effective, it does not replicate well, creating a need for multiple doses during their treatment with slight alterations made with each new dose. Although the new treatment option is still in its experimental testing phases, the potential of fighting cancers from within by utilizing molecular structures is promising for the future of the field. 

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