MIT researchers have developed a polymer they claim should be able to deliver almost any gene to its desired location. Considering that viruses are typically used for genetic treatment, this method cuts the risk of virus related complications.
The polymers under development by the MIT group are relatively inexpensive to manufacture and break down into harmless byproducts in the body. The kind of polymer used as a starting material by the MIT researchers naturally associates with DNA and can succeed in delivering genes into cells.
“They have something comparable [in effectiveness] to viruses,” says David Putnam, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Cornell University. “No one has been able to achieve this.”
The MIT researchers succeeded because they have developed rapid systems for developing and testing large numbers of polymers, says Putnam. “A lot of materials development is a numbers game,” he explains, and the MIT group can design and test new polymers “an order of magnitude faster than everybody else.”
The MIT researchers have previously used an unmodified version of the polymer to selectively deliver a suicide gene to prostate tumors in mice. For their current research, published last week in Advanced Materials, they experimented with making small chemical changes to the ends of the polymers.