Researchers at the Yonsei University, Seoul, capital of South Korea, are working on an artificial self-assembling virus that could be used for targeted delivery of drugs to cells.
Self-assembly is building a virus protein by protein, a huge task. But Koreans have succeeded.
They demonstrated the transport of the fluorescent chemical "nile red" into cell cytoplasms and nuclei - a very nifty tool for experimental anti-cancer medications, since the nucleus (as the name suggests) is the central point for many cell functions. Rather than flooding your system with oral or injected medicines and simply hoping that enough gets where it needs to be, a pharmacological smart-bomb can be delivered direct to the nucleus by an escort of artificial invaders, writes Luke McKinney in Daily Galaxy.
The viruses also have applications in gene therapy, the idea that debugging your DNA can help avoid or even eliminate some sicknesses. The whole point of a virus is to hijack your molecular machinery to produce more copies of itself, which it does by editing your DNA code. Artificial viruses could be programmed to use the same mechanisms for slightly more desirable results, as demonstrated by the team's incorporation of siRNA (small interfering RNA) into the artificial virus. Gene knockdown experiments indicated high transfection efficiencies, that is, they it worked.
In January this year, it was reported that researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and The Scripps Research Institute in California were designing an artificial viral shell as a valuable nano-container for pinpoint drug delivery, molecular computing components, and a host of other applications.
Artificial capsids could act as cargo containers that deliver drugs to targeted areas of the body, vessels that shuttle replacement genes to their new homes in the genome as part of gene therapy, or tiny enclosed laboratories for doing chemical reactions or building molecular computer parts, it was said.
The size of artificial capsids "is very important. It will determine which molecules we'll be able to pack inside the container. Small containers will allow for drug delivery, big ones for delivering proteins and very big for the delivery of genes," Technion chemist Ehud Keinan had noted.