LA JOLLA, CA July 1, 2012 Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have discovered a surprisingly simple and safe method to disrupt specific genes within cells. The scientists highlighted the medical potential of the new technique by demonstrating its use as a safer alternative to an experimental gene therapy against HIV infection.
"We showed that we can modify the genomes of cells without the troubles that have long been linked to traditional gene therapy techniques," said the study's senior author Carlos F. Barbas III, who is the Janet and Keith Kellogg II Professor of Molecular Biology and Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute.
The new technique, reported in Nature Methods on July 1, 2012, employs zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) proteins, which can bind and cut DNA at precisely defined locations in the genome. ZFNs are coming into widespread use in scientific experiments and potential disease treatments, but typically are delivered into cells using potentially risky gene therapy methods.
The Scripps Research scientists simply added ZFN proteins directly to cells in a lab dish and found that the proteins crossed into the cells and performed their gene-cutting functions with high efficiency and minimal collateral damage.
"This work removes a major bottleneck in the efficient use of ZFN proteins as a gene therapy tool in humans," said Michael K. Reddy, who oversees transcription mechanism grants at the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which helped fund the work, along with an NIH Director's Pioneer Award. "The directness of Dr. Barbas's approach of 'simply' testing the notion that ZFNs could possess an intrinsic cell-penetrating ability is a testament to his highly creative nature and further validates his selection as a 2010 recipient of an NIH Director's Pioneer Award."
ZFNs, invented in the mid-1990s,
|Contact: Mika OnoScripps Research Institute scientists develop alternative to gene therapy|
Scripps Research Institute