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Designer nano luggage to carry drugs to diseased cells

Visit John Innes Centre website

10 March 2010

For the first time, scientists have succeeded in growing empty particles derived from a plant virus and have made them carry useful chemicals.

The external surface of these nano containers could be decorated with molecules that guide them to where they are needed in the body, before the chemical load is discharged to exert its effect on diseased cells. The containers are particles of the Cowpea mosaic virus, which is ideally suited for designing biomaterial at the nanoscale.

"This is a shot in the arm for all Cowpea mosaic virus technology," says Professor George Lomonosoff of the John Innes Centre, one of the authors on a paper to be published in Small.

Scientists have previously tried to empty virus particles of their genetic material using irradiation or chemical treatment. Though successful in rendering the particles non-infectious, these methods have not fully emptied the particles.

Scientists at the John Innes Centre discovered they could assemble empty particles from precursors in plants and then extract them to insert chemicals of interest. Scientists at JIC and elsewhere had also previously managed to decorate the surface of virus particles with useful molecules.

"But now we can load them too, creating fancy chemical containers," says lead author Dr Dave Evans.

"This brings a huge change to the whole technology and opens up new areas of research," says Prof Lomonossoff. "We don't really know all the potential applications yet because such particles have not been available before. There is no history of them."

One application could be in cancer treatment. Integrins are molecules that appear on cancer cells. The virus particles could be coated externally with peptides that bind to integrins. This would mean the particles seek out cancer cells to the exclusion of healthy cells. Once bound to the cancer cell, the virus particle would release an anti-cancer agent that has been carried as an internal cargo.

Some current drugs damage healthy cells as well as the cancer, leading to hair loss and other side effects. This technology could deliver the drug in a more targeted way.

"The potential for developing Cowpea mosaic virus as a targeted delivery agent of therapeutics is now a reality," says Dr Evans.

The empty viral particles, their use, and the processes by which they are made, are the subject of a new patent filing. Management of the patent and commercialisation of the technology is being handled by PBL.

The John Innes Centre is an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

ENDS

Notes to editors

Full reference: "Cowpea Mosaic virus unmodified empty virus-like particles can be loaded with metal and metal oxide." DOI: 10.1002/smll.200902135.

Enquiries regarding access to this technology for commercial applications should be directed to Dr. Martin Stocks martin@pbltechnology.com.

About the JIC

The John Innes Centre (JIC), www.jic.ac.uk, is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial sciences with over 800 staff. JIC is based on Norwich Research Park and carries out high quality fundamental, strategic and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC is grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

About PBL

Plant Bioscience Limited (PBL) www.pbltechnology.com is a technology development and intellectual property management company owned in equal parts by The Sainsbury Laboratory www.tsl.ac.uk, the John Innes Centre www.jic.ac.uk and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council www.bbsrc.ac.uk. PBL promotes the development and commercial uptake of academic research results for public use and benefit and is specialised in life sciences.

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

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