Swiss researchers have found that the insertion of tiny plastic packages of enzymes in human cells may help upgrade their metabolisms, without having to alter their genes.
Researchers at University of Basel believe that their technique might open the door for advanced cancer treatments, or even upgrade a person's metabolism.
In their study report, the researchers pointed out that the cells of multi-cellular organisms and some advanced single-celled organisms have internal compartments called organelles to carry out specialised metabolic functions.
They revealed that they used artificial polymer organelles in lab experiments to upgrade live human cells.
Lead researcher Wolfgang Meier said that his team coated their polymer vesicles in a chemical, which encouraged human white blood cells called macrophages to engulf them.
He revealed that there were enzymes in the small capsules that produced fluorescent chemicals, through which they signalled that they were working without problems inside their new host.
The researcher also said that the artificial organelle's membrane could be chemically tuned to control which chemicals could pass through it, and regulate the reactions inside.
"We call it a 'nanoreactor'," New Scientist quoted him as saying.
Meier further said that the artificial organelles could also work in other human cells, and thus lead to the development of a new cancer therapy that would trick diseased cells into poisoning themselves from the inside out.
He said that such organelles could couild pave the way for a method to introduce enzymes with the ability to convert into "prodrug", used in advanced chemotherapy these days, actually inside cancer cells where it can be more effective.
"You can create, inside these cells, a little compartment that is able to convert the non-toxic prodrug into a toxic drug that kills (them). There would be no other enzyme in the human body available that can catalyse this reaction," he said.
Meier said that the artificial organelles might also be helpful in curing conditions that result from a deficit of a particular enzyme-such as administering patients with lactose intolerance organelles carrying lactose-digesting enzymes to help their digestive cells work properly.
He even envisions that introduction of non-human metabolic functions into human cells in the future.
"We could, in principle, bring in a nanoreactor that (lets) your skin do something like photosynthesis. So if you are hungry, you just lie in the Sun," Meier said.
He, however, agreed that clinical trials of the artificial organelles were still a distant prospect.
An article describing the research has been published in the journal Nano Letters.