Light-activated, Nano-sized Protein Factories Show Promise For Drug Delivery

By Veronique Greenwood | August 13, 2012 2:41 pm


Some of the most exciting medical research these days involves light. Light therapy for cancer, in which a tumor-seeking dye becomes toxic as soon as a light is switched on, manages to avoid slaughtering nearby healthy cells. Optogenetics—using light to turn on or off the expression of neurons—has advanced researchers’ understanding of neurological diseases.

Now, a recent paper is a reminder that light might someday be used for exquisitely tailored drug delivery: in this paper, tiny packages bearing all the molecular machinery to build a protein are idle when injected into mice, but spring into action when exposed to UV light.

The nanoparticles, which you can see a schematic of above, are little envelopes of cellular membrane, wrapped around a basic set of protein-building machinery and the gene for whatever you’d like manufactured—the researchers used a glowing fluorescent protein for their test. The gene can’t be accessed by the machinery because it is sealed into a loop by a piece of molecular adhesive, but shine a UV light on it, and the adhesive unsticks. Then the machinery transcribes the gene, and the protein is expressed. The researchers found that when they injected the particles into mice and turned on the UV light, the injection site glowed.

Though we’re far from swapping drugs or medically helpful proteins into these remote-control nano-factories just yet, showing that they can function in a live animal is an exciting advance.

[via The Scientist]

Image courtesy of Schroeder et al / Nano Letters

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • John Lerch

    What an absolutely horrible idea. Haven’t they ever heard of mutations?

  • John Doe

    @John Lerch, when you have cancer thats probably a risk you’d be willing to take…

  • Feanor

    Are you sure the link in the sentence “manages to avoid slaughtering nearby healthy cells” is correct? I believe it applies more to optogenetics than to the light therapy for cancer.

    This mechanism could be used to release the protein in the exact site of action, I suppose. Or perhaps this is the obvious usage for this technology.

  • Mary Ann

    I feel certain there is a link between light and nerves. People seem to calm down a lot when they use less light, when they are less active at night time etc. Also, people who stay up late at night and work at their computers, are usually more than weird. I guess their nerves have been damaged by fake light. I know you guys are not impressed by my comment, as my scientific knowledge isn´t as impressive as yours. I am merely drawing my own conclusions. If you would like to add some additional knowledge regarding this matter, feel free to do so.


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