Synthetic Biologists Design a Gene that Forces Cancer Cells to Commit Suicide
Posted on September 4, 2011 Comments (2)
Because the genes used to create the circuits can be easily swapped in and out, this approach could also yield new treatments or diagnostics for many other diseases, according to Ron Weiss, an MIT associate professor of biological engineering and one of the leaders of the research team. “This is a general technology for disease-state detection,” he says.
the researchers created a synthetic gene for a protein, called hBax, that promotes cell death. They designed the gene with two separate safeguards against the killing of healthy, non-HeLa cells: It can be turned off by high levels of microRNAs that are ordinarily low in HeLa, and can also be deactivated by low levels of microRNAs that are normally plentiful in HeLa. A single discrepancy from the target microRNA profile is enough to shut off production of the cell-death protein.
If all microRNA levels match up with the HeLa profile, the protein is produced and the cell dies. In any other cell, the protein never gets made, and the synthetic genes eventually break down.
More very cool research. It is exciting to see how much can be done when we invest in science and engineering research. Of course the path from initial research to implemented solutions is long and complex and often fails to deliver on the initial hopes. But some remarkable breakthroughs achieve spectacular results that we benefit from every day.