24 January 2006

Revolutionary New Genetic Engineering Tool

Snowcrash at Biosingularity Blog has an excellent posting about a revolutionary new tool for genetic research, and ultimately for gene therapy.

Snowcrash explains:
The researchers have combined several gene manipulation techniques and incorporated them into a single lentiviral vector – a gene delivery system partly derived from HIV. When injected into living cells – either in vitro or in vivo – the genetic material aboard the lentiviral vector joins the genetic material in the nucleus of the cell, causing the cell to express the protein encoded by the new gene. This versatile package can also carry bits of RNA that stop the cell from expressing one of its own genes, by way of RNA interference. But the cargo that makes this tool really novel and exciting is a fusion protein that acts as a kind of remote control. By administering an antibiotic, the genetic manipulation – either the transgenic material introduced by the lentivirus, or the gene silencing via RNA interference–can be switched on or off at will.

In discussing possible therapies using this technique, Snowcrash comments:
In cancer research this tool could be used to study gene function in tumor cells and for generating in vivo tumor models for drug screening and delivery.

In another application, dying cells (such as neurons) can be rescued by introducing a gene that expresses a growth factor. Thanks to the remote control carried in the lentivirus the expression of this growth factor can now be turned off when the desired effect is achieved, thus preventing unharnessed growth – otherwise known as cancer.

The research is from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

Read the whole thing.

Improvements in the tools of genetic engineering underlie rapid advancement in actual research. Each such discovery increases the accelerating rate of knowledge acquisition.
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