These particles of RNA are encapsulated in particles called thioketal nanoparticles and orally delivered the genetic material directly to the inflamed intestines of animals.
"The thioketal nanoparticles we designed are stable in both acids and bases and only break open to release the pieces of RNA in the presence of reactive oxygen species, which are found in and around inflamed tissue in the gastrointestinal tract of individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases," Nature quoted Niren Murthy at Georgia Tech and Emory University as saying.
These particles protect the RNA from the harsh environment of the gastrointestinal tract and target them directly to the inflamed intestinal tissues.
The researchers used a mouse model of ulcerative colitis -- a debilitating inflammatory bowel disease in which the digestive tract becomes inflamed, causing severe diarrhoea and abdominal pain that can lead to life-threatening complications.
The nanoparticles travelled directly to the mouse colons where reactive oxygen species were being produced in excess and decreased the cytokine production levels there.
Tissue samples from the colons treated with the nanoparticles exhibited intact epitheliums, well-defined fingerlike "crypt" structures and lower levels of inflammation-signs that the colon was protected against ulcerative colitis.
The researchers are currently working on increasing the degradation rate of the nanoparticles and enhancing their reactivity with reactive oxygen species. The team also plans to conduct a biodistribution study to detail how the nanoparticles travel through the body.
In the future, thioketal nanoparticles may become a significant player in the treatment of numerous gastrointestinal diseases linked to intestinal inflammation, including gastrointestinal cancers, inflammatory bowel diseases and viral infections, according to Murthy.
The study is published in the Oct. 10 advance online edition of the journal Nature Materials.