Researchers can deliver RNA, proteins and nanoparticles for many applications


QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8How to squeeze large molecules into cells

By deforming cells, researchers can deliver RNA, proteins and nanoparticles for many applications
January 28, 2013

As cells squeeze through a narrow channel, tiny holes open in their membranes, allowing large molecules such as RNA to pass through (credit: Armon Sharei and Emily Jackson)

Living cells are surrounded by a membrane that tightly regulates what gets in and out of the cell. This barrier is necessary for cells to control their internal environment, but it makes it more difficult for scientists to deliver large molecules such as nanoparticles for imaging, or proteins that can reprogram them into pluripotent stem cells.squeezed_cells

Researchers from MIT have now found a safe and efficient way to get large molecules through the cell membrane, by squeezing the cells through a narrow constriction that opens up tiny, temporary holes in the membrane. Any large molecules floating outside the cell — such as RNA, proteins or nanoparticles — can slide through the membrane during this disruption.

Using this technique, the researchers were able to deliver reprogramming proteins and generate induced pluripotent stem cells with a success rate 10 to 100 times better than any existing method. They also used it to deliver nanoparticles, including carbon nanotubes and quantum dots, which can be used to image cells and monitor what’s happening inside them.

“It’s very useful to be able to get large molecules into cells. We thought it might be interesting if you could have a relatively simple system that could deliver many different compounds,” says Klavs Jensen, the Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering, professor of materials science and engineering, and a senior author of a paper describing the new device in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, is also a senior author of the paper. Lead authors are chemical engineering graduate student Armon Sharei, Koch Institute research scientist Janet Zoldan, and chemical engineering research associate Andrea Adamo.

The new MIT system appears to work for many cell types — so far, the researchers have successfully tested it with more than a dozen types, including both human and mouse cells. It also works in cells taken directly from human patients, which are usually much more difficult to manipulate than human cell lines grown specifically for lab research.

The new device builds on previous work by Jensen and Langer’s labs, in which they used microinjection to force large molecules into cells as they flowed through a microfluidic device. This wasn’t as fast as the researchers would have liked, but during these studies, they discovered that when a cell is squeezed through a narrow tube, small holes open in the cell membrane, allowing nearby molecules to diffuse into the cell.

To take advantage of that, the researchers built rectangular microfluidic chips, about the size of a quarter, with 40 to 70 parallel channels. Cells are suspended in a solution with the material to be delivered and flowed through the channel at high speed — about one meter per second. Halfway through the channel, the cells pass through a constriction about 30 to 80 percent smaller than the cells’ diameter. The cells don’t suffer any irreparable damage, and they maintain their normal functions after the treatment.

Special delivery

The research team is now further pursuing stem cell manipulation, which holds promise for treating a wide range of diseases. They have already shown that they can transform human fibroblast cells into pluripotent stem cells, and now plan to start working on delivering the proteins needed to differentiate stem cells into specialized tissues.

Another promising application is delivering quantum dots — nanoparticles made of semiconducting metals that fluoresce. These dots hold promise for labeling individual proteins or other molecules inside cells, but scientists have had trouble getting them through the cell membrane without getting trapped in endosomes.

In a paper published in November, working with MIT graduate student Jungmin Lee and chemistry professor Moungi Bawendi, the researchers showed that they could get quantum dots inside human cells grown in the lab, without the particles becoming confined in endosomes or clumping together. They are now working on getting the dots to tag specific proteins inside the cells.

The researchers are also exploring the possibility of using the new system for vaccination. In theory, scientists could remove immune cells from a patient, run them through the microfluidic device and expose them to a viral protein, and then put them back in the patient. Once inside, the cells could provoke an immune response that would confer immunity against the target viral protein.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.

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Breakthrough nanoparticle halts multiple sclerosis


Posted: Nov 18th, 2012

(Nanowerk News) In a breakthrough for nanotechnology and multiple sclerosis, a biodegradable nanoparticle turns out to be the perfect vehicle to stealthily deliver an antigen that tricks the immune system into stopping its attack on myelin and halt a model of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) in mice, according to new Northwestern Medicine research.
The new nanotechnology also can be applied to a variety of immune-mediated diseases including Type 1 diabetes, food allergies and airway allergies such as asthma.
In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin membrane that insulates nerves cells in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. When the insulation is destroyed, electrical signals can’t be effectively conducted, resulting in symptoms that range from mild limb numbness to paralysis or blindness. About 80 percent of MS patients are diagnosed with the relapsing remitting form of the disease.
The Northwestern nanotechnology does not suppress the entire immune system as do current therapies for MS, which make patients more susceptible to everyday infections and higher rates of cancer. Rather, when the nanoparticles are attached to myelin antigens and injected into the mice, the immune system is reset to normal. The immune system stops recognizing myelin as an alien invader and halts its attack on it.
“This is a highly significant breakthrough in translational immunotherapy,” said Stephen Miller, a corresponding author of the study and the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The beauty of this new technology is it can be used in many immune-related diseases. We simply change the antigen that’s delivered.”
“The holy grail is to develop a therapy that is specific to the pathological immune response, in this case the body attacking myelin,” Miller added. “Our approach resets the immune system so it no longer attacks myelin but leaves the function of the normal immune system intact.”
The nanoparticle, made from an easily produced and already FDA-approved substance, was developed by Lonnie Shea, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“This is a major breakthrough in nanotechnology, showing you can use it to regulate the immune system,” said Shea, also a corresponding author. The paper will be published Nov. 18 in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Miller and Shea are also members of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. In addition, Shea is a member of the Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine and the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute.
CLINICAL TRIAL FOR MS TESTS SAME APPROACH — WITH KEY DIFFERENCE
The study’s method is the same approach now being tested in multiple sclerosis patients in a phase I/II clinical trial — with one key difference. The trial uses a patient’s own white blood cells — a costly and labor intensive procedure — to deliver the antigen. The purpose of the new study was to see if nanoparticles could be as effective as the white blood cells as delivery vehicles. They were.
THE BIG NANOPARTICLE ADVANTAGE FOR IMMUNOTHERAPY
Nanoparticles have many advantages; they can be readily produced in a laboratory and standardized for manufacturing. They would make the potential therapy cheaper and more accessible to a general population. In addition, these nanoparticles are made of a polymer called Poly(lactide-co-glycolide) (PLG), which consists of lactic acid and glycolic acid, both natural metabolites in the human body. PLG is most commonly used for biodegradable sutures.
The fact that PLG is already FDA approved for other applications should facilitate translating the research to patients, Shea noted. Miller and Shea tested nanoparticles of various sizes and discovered that 500 nanometers was most effective at modulating the immune response.
“We administered these particles to animals who have a disease very similar to relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis and stopped it in its tracks,” Miller said. “We prevented any future relapses for up to 100 days, which is the equivalent of several years in the life of an MS patient.”
Shea and Miller also are currently testing the nanoparticles to treat Type one diabetes and airway diseases such as asthma.
NANOPARTICLES FOOL IMMUNE SYSTEM
In the study, researchers attached myelin antigens to the nanoparticles and injected them intravenously into the mice. The particles entered the spleen, which filters the blood and helps the body dispose of aging and dying blood cells. There, the particles were engulfed by macrophages, a type of immune cell, which then displayed the antigens on their cell surface. The immune system viewed the nanoparticles as ordinary dying blood cells and nothing to be concerned about. This created immune tolerance to the antigen by directly inhibiting the activity of myelin responsive T cells and by increasing the numbers of regulatory T cells which further calmed the autoimmune response.
“The key here is that this antigen/particle-based approach to induction of tolerance is selective and targeted. Unlike generalized immunosuppression, which is the current therapy used for autoimmune diseases, this new process does not shut down the whole immune system,” said Christine Kelley, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering director of the division of Discovery Science and Technology at the National Institutes of Health, which supported the research. “This collaborative effort between expertise in immunology and bioengineering is a terrific example of the tremendous advances that can be made with scientifically convergent approaches to biomedical problems.”
“We are proud to share our expertise in therapeutics development with Dr. Stephen Miller’s stellar team of academic scientists,” said Scott Johnson, CEO, president and founder of the Myelin Repair Foundation. “The idea to couple antigens to nanoparticles was conceived in discussions between Dr. Miller’s laboratory, the Myelin Repair Foundation’s drug discovery advisory board and Dr. Michael Pleiss, a member of the Myelin Repair Foundation’s internal research team, and we combined our efforts to focus on patient-oriented, clinically relevant research with broad implications for all autoimmune diseases. Our unique research model is designed to foster and extract the innovation from the academic science that we fund and transition these technologies to commercialization. The overarching goal is to ensure this important therapeutic pathway has its best chance to reach patients, with MS and all autoimmune diseases.”
Source: Northwestern University

Read more: http://www.nanowerk.com/news2/newsid=27513.php#ixzz2CfJ05yyZ

MIT team builds most complex synthetic biology circuit yet


New sensor can detect four different molecules, could be used to program cells to precisely monitor their environments.

MIT team builds most complex synthetic biology circuit yetUsing genes as interchangeable parts, synthetic biologists design cellular circuits that can perform new functions, such as sensing environmental conditions. However, the complexity that can be achieved in such circuits has been limited by a critical bottleneck: the difficulty in assembling genetic components that don’t interfere with each other. 

 

Unlike electronic circuits on a silicon chip, biological circuits inside a cell cannot be physically isolated from one another. “The cell is sort of a burrito. It has everything mixed together,” saysChristopher Voigt, an associate professor of biological engineering at MIT.

Because all the cellular machinery for reading genes and synthesizing proteins is jumbled together, researchers have to be careful that proteins that control one part of their synthetic circuit don’t hinder other parts of the circuit.

Voigt and his students have now developed circuit components that don’t interfere with one another, allowing them to produce the most complex synthetic circuit ever built. The circuit, described in the Oct. 7 issue of Nature, integrates four sensors for different molecules. Such circuits could be used in cells to precisely monitor their environments and respond appropriately.

“It’s incredibly complex, stitching together all these pieces,” says Voigt, who is co-director of the Synthetic Biology Center at MIT. Larger circuits would require computer programs that Voigt and his students are now developing, which should allow them to combine hundreds of circuits in new and useful ways.

Lead author of the paper is MIT postdoc Tae Seok Moon. Other authors are MIT postdoc Chunbo Lou and Alvin Tamsir, a graduate student at the University of California at San Francisco.

Expanding the possibilities

Previously, Voigt has designed bacteria that can respond to light and capture photographic images, and others that can detect low oxygen levels and high cell density — both conditions often found in tumors. However, no matter the end result, most of his projects, and those of other synthetic biologists, use a small handful of known genetic parts. “We were just repackaging the same circuits over and over again,” Voigt says.

To expand the number of possible circuits, the researchers needed components that would not interfere with each other. They started out by studying the bacterium that causes salmonella, which has a cellular pathway that controls the injection of proteins into human cells. “It’s a very tightly regulated circuit, which is what makes it a good synthetic circuit,” Voigt says.

The pathway consists of three components: an activator, a promoter and a chaperone. A promoter is a region of DNA where proteins bind to initiate transcription of a gene. An activator is one such protein. Some activators also require a chaperone protein before they can bind to DNA to initiate transcription.

The researchers found 60 different versions of this pathway in other species of bacteria, and found that most of the proteins involved in each were different enough that they did not interfere with one another. However, there was a small amount of crosstalk between a few of the circuit components, so the researchers used an approach called directed evolution to reduce it. Directed evolution is a trial-and-error process that involves mutating a gene to create thousands of similar variants, then testing them for the desired trait. The best candidates are mutated and screened again, until the optimal gene is created.

Aindrila Mukhopadhyay, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says the amount of troubleshooting the researchers did to create each functional module is impressive. “A lot of people are charmed by the idea of creating complex genetic circuits. This study provides valuable examples of the types of optimizations that they may have to do in order to accomplish such goals,” says Mukhopadhyay, who was not part of the research team.

Layered circuits

To design synthetic circuits so they can be layered together, their inputs and outputs must mesh. With an electrical circuit, the inputs and outputs are always electricity. With these biological circuits, the inputs and outputs are proteins that control the next circuit (either activators or chaperones).

These components could be useful for creating circuits that can sense a variety of environmental conditions. “If a cell needs to find the right microenvironment — glucose, pH, temperature and osmolarity [solute concentration] — individually they’re not very specific, but getting all four of those things really narrows it down,” Voigt says.

The researchers are now applying this work to create a sensor that will allow yeast in an industrial fermenter to monitor their own environment and adjust their output accordingly.

The research was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the National Institutes of Health.