Gene healing in a lotion? Researchers are close

Posted: July 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm

By Brian Alexander

Most people who buy cosmetic lotions and potions know that while the people working behind the department store makeup counters may wear white lab coats, the stuff they sell is more about packaging than science.

But a Northwestern University team is bucking that image, reporting today that theyve created a way to regulate genes affecting the skin -- merely by applying moisturizer.

Not only could their technology pave the way for cosmetics that actually work, but it also might also prove to be a valuable weapon in fighting melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, or diseases like psoriasis, and wounds like the intractable sores that often plague diabetics.

This is a blockbuster in the ways we will treat diseases of the skin, saidChad Mirkin, director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology and the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern said. Were talking about ailments, scarring, wound healing, ways of regulating them or retarding them.

In a research paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mirkin and his colleagues describe not a drug, exactly, but a way of delivering small sections of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA are nucleic acids) called short interfering RNA, or siRNA, to cells. The cells take up the siRNA, which then alters the way a gene inside each cell can be read by the protein-making system.

The team used gold particles with a diameter of 13 nanometers. (One nanometer is 1-billionth of a meter. A typical strand of human hair is roughly 60,000 nanometers wide.) They coated the particles with siRNA to create what they call spherical nucleic acid nanoparticleconjugates, or SNAs. Millions of SNAs were then added to a commercially available petroleum-based skin moisturizer and the mixture was applied to mice and to lab-grown human skin.

In their key experiment in mice, they used their new system to tamp down the activity of a gene called epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR, thats involved in the growth of melanoma. As its name implies, EGFR receives messages from the epidermal growth factor protein. So toning down EGFR will interrupt the message; growth will be reduced or stop.

After mice were treated with the mixture three times per week for three weeks, the expression of the EGFR gene was reduced by 65 percent.

'Impressive' resultsSteve Dowdy, professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California San Diego, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator specializing in RNA inhibition and ways to deliver siRNAs, called that result impressive.

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Gene healing in a lotion? Researchers are close

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