University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers have developed a safer and more efficient way to deliver a promising new method for treating cancer and liver disorders and for vaccination — including a COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna Therapeutics that has advanced to clinical trials with humans.
- The technology relies on inserting into cells pieces of carefully designed messenger RNA (mRNA), a strip of genetic material that human cells typically transcribe from a person’s DNA in order to make useful proteins and go about their business. Problems delivering mRNA safely and intact without running afoul of the immune system have held back mRNA-based therapy, but UW–Madison researchers are making tiny balls of minerals that appear to do the trick in mice.
- “These microparticles have pores on their surface that are on the nanometer scale that allow them to pick up and carry molecules like proteins or messenger RNA,” says William Murphy, a UW–Madison professor of biomedical engineering and orthopedics. “They mimic something commonly seen in archaeology, when we find intact protein or DNA on a bone sample or an eggshell from thousands of years ago. The mineral components helped to stabilize those molecules for all that time.”
- “What we’ve seen with the MCMs is, once the cells take up the mRNA and start making protein, that protein will bind right back within the MCM particle,” Murphy says. “Then it gets released over the course of weeks. We’re basically taking something that would normally last maybe hours or even a day, and we’re making it last for a long time.”
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