Mason Researcher Develops New Technique for Use in Gene Therapy

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Gene therapy and its potential to further personalized medicine is one of the hot topics in medicine today. Gene therapy derives its name from the idea that DNA can be used to alter or correct part of the genetic strand, affecting an individual’s cells to treat or prevent disease.

One of the challenges facing doctors and researchers pursuing this line of inquiry is how to deliver the therapeutic small interfering RNA (siRNA) to the appropriate site in the body. Mason biologist Ancha Baranova’s latest patent provides such a delivery system.

Mason researcher Ancha Baranova in her lab. Photo by Creative Services.

Mason researcher Ancha Baranova in her lab. Photo by Creative Services.

Oral delivery doesn’t work for this kind of therapy, Baranova says, because the siRNA could not survive the digestive track and its acids. Intravenous delivery with an injection into the circulatory system presents other obstacles.

“To the body, [the siRNA] looks like the sign of a viral infection so it can activate an immune response,” she says. This response can also lead to the siRNA’s degradation.

To thwart the body’s immune response, Baranova has developed a cloaking device to prolong the life of the siRNA and improve its chances of reaching the target site. The therapeutic molecules are tucked into what Baranova calls a “DNA basket.”

“You can do amazing things with DNA,” she says. This basket is made using DNA from salmon, which is cheap and clean, according to Baranova. In the future, she believes the patient’s own DNA could be used to create the basket, ensuring even greater compatibility.

Baranova shares the patent, Nanogenomics for Medicine: siRNA Engineering, with her former graduate student Amanda Zirzow. It is the fourth patent that Baranova has been awarded since joining Mason in 2001.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Mason Research.

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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