Sunday, August 19, 2012

Folding DNA like a trojan horse

DNA is normally shaped like a double helix, which basically looks similar to a spiralling staircase. By building DNA in this particular way, it is possible to form endless chains of genetic material, suitable for read-out by cellular machinery, in order to derive the required information for protein production. However, by changing chemical properties, it is possible to give DNA a different shape, and fold it in ways similar to the way proteins are folded into their unique shape. DNA folding has been used by a group of scientists to create something similar to a trojan horse, in order to help kill cancer cells.

Cells have the capability to take up pieces of DNA that float around. There are special transporting mechanisms that arrange for the genetic code to be taken up, and it is often used when cells in the same neighbourhood die, and leave their DNA behind in separated packages. Researchers therefore argued it would be possible to use it as a disguise, and load it up with a drug to kill malicious cells found in tumours.

In order to test their idea, the scientists loaded a specially folded piece of DNA with Doxorubicin, a compound used to treat breast cancer. This drug normally works well, but sadly some tumours develop resistance, rendering Doxorubicin unable to assert its effect. Hiding it in DNA fixed that issue, as the scientists showed in their study that a Doxorubicin-loaded piece of genetic code was able to kill drug-resistant breast cancer cells.

The trojan-horse technique may function as a novel way to deal with resistance in patients with cancer. So far, the method has been tested using lab-grown cancer cells. Clinical trials would have to be performed before anything conclusive can be said about the treatment, but it does look like an interesting concept. Perhaps it also works with other types of cancer and their respective treatment strategies.
A conventional DNA structure.

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