Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gene Therapy: The Attraction is Magnetic

Gene therapy is considered by medical researchers around the world to be a greatly promising potential treatment for many diseases, including cancers. Thanks to a researcher at the University of Sheffield, UK, this potential may have come a step closer to realisation.

Gene therapy involves delivering new modified genetic material to diseased cells, in the hope that the action of these new genes will correct the disease in each cell. While the process has repeatedly been shown to work in principle, there are practical difficulties which have prevented gene therapy from becoming widely utilised thus far. Foremost of these difficulties has been ensuring that sufficient numbers of genes arrive at the relevant area of tissue.

Claire Lewis may have found a solution, using magnets to make sure the modified genes reach their targets. Working on tumours in mice, she began the gene therapy process as normal, inserting the modified gene into myocyte white blood cells. But before injecting these monocytes, Lewis’ team added magnetic nanoparticles to the cells. When injected into the bloodstream, cells containing these nanoparticles could be guided to their target tissue by a magnetic field. Simply placing a magnet over the mice’s tumours was enough to ensure that the cells congregated there. It is believed that by utilising precisely variable magnetic fields like those of MRI machines, this process could also be used to reach deep-seated tumours.

Lewis' group are now investigating the capabilities of their technique in more detail. It could eventually make gene therapy the next big thing in tumour treatment.

Michael Horn


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