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January 7, 2021

Researchers discover new way to deliver DNA-based therapies for diseases

University of Minnesota researchers have created a polymer to deliver DNA and RNA-based therapies for diseases. For the first time in the industry, the researchers were able to see exactly how polymers interact with human cells when delivering medicines into the body. This discovery opens the door for more widespread use of polymers in gene therapies and vaccines.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Package protection.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from NSF -- the U.S. National Science Foundation.

If you've ordered something online lately, (Sound effect: opening package) it probably came in some sort of protective packaging. In the same way, gene therapies need a carrier that "packages" the DNA to safely deliver it directly to the cells. Since the cell recipients don't have (Sound effect: sound of tiny delivery trucks) little brown and white trucks to bring the DNA in boxes and bubble wrap, other ways have been developed. Sometimes a virus is used as a delivery vehicle. Carrier packaging is also used in vaccines, such as the new messenger RNA Covid-19 vaccine.

NSF-supported researchers at the University of Minnesota have created a bio-safe polymer to deliver DNA and RNA -based therapies. Polymer packaging is a lot cheaper than using viruses. Problem was scientists didn't know a lot about how polymers actually interact with cells in the body.

The new polymer includes quinine (Sound effect: pull tab and pouring, fizzing) -- same stuff used in tonic water -- which is fluorescent. So, for the first time, with special chemical imaging, researchers were able to track the package and found that the cell's own proteins unpack it when it arrives. Delivering the possibility of widespread use in vaccines and less expensive gene therapy -- getting medicine where it's needed and tracking its route.

Fortunately, cells don't have -- porch pirates.

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