Researchers from the Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) have discovered that a DNA-covered submicroscopic bead used to deliver genes or drugs directly into cells to treat disease appears to have therapeutic value just by showing up. Indeed, within a few hours of injecting empty-handed DNA nanoparticles, the team found an increased expression of an enzyme that calms the immune response—indoleomine 2,3 dioxygenase, or IDO.
“It’s like pouring water on a fire,” said Dr. Andrew L. Mellor, Director of the GHSU’s Medical College of Georgia Immunotherapy Center and the study’s corresponding author, in the May 15, 2012 news release. “The fire is burning down the house, which in this case is the tissue normally required for your joints to work smoothly,” Mellor said of the immune system’s inexplicable attack on bone-cushioning cartilage. “When IDO levels are high, there is more water to control the fire.”
Follow-up studies include documenting all cells that respond by producing more IDO. GHSU researchers already are working with biopolymer experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley and the Georgia Institute of Technology to identify the optimal polymer. The polymer used in the study is not biodegradable so the researchers need one that will eventually safely degrade in the body. Ideally, they’d also like it to target specific cells, such as those near inflamed joints, to minimize any potential ill effects.
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