By Sarah Newton-John • 30 March 2023 • 17:24
Cancer cells/Shutterstock Images
The team modified a syringe-like protein naturally found in Photorhabdus asymbiotica, a species of bacteria primarily found in insects. The modified syringe, described Wednesday (March 29) in the journal Nature, has not yet been tested in humans, only in lab dishes and live mice.
The syringe could have medical applications, experts say—eventually.
“The authors show that this approach can be tuned to target specific cells and to deliver customized protein cargoes (payloads),” wrote Charles Ericson and Martin Pilhofer in the commentary to the research. They study bacterial cell-cell interactions at ETH Zürich in Switzerland.
“These re-engineered injection complexes represent an exciting biotechnological toolbox that could have applications in various biological systems,” they wrote.
They used the system to deliver toxic proteins into cancer cells in lab dishes. And finally, they injected the syringes into live mice and found that their cargo could only be detected in the targeted areas and did not spark a harmful immune reaction. For this last experiment, the team used AlphaFold to design their syringes to specifically target mouse cells. For a full description of the science involved in this discovery read this.
The tiny syringes could also potentially be programmed to fight disease-causing bacteria in the body, Ericson and Pilhofer wrote.
“However, we note that this system is still in its infancy; further efforts will be required to characterize the behavior of this system in vivo before it can be applied in clinical or commercial settings,” Joseph Kreitz, a doctoral student at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and first author of the study, told Live Science in an email.
The team is now studying how well the syringes diffuse through different tissues and organs, and continuing to examine how the immune system reacts to the new protein delivery system.
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