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article imageNovel platform for cancer treatment developed

By Tim Sandle     Jan 21, 2016 in Science
A new strand of research, exploring how microRNAs can be delivered for cancer treatment, has been published. The method takes advantage of advances in hydrogel technology.
Essentially the new method is a type of gene therapy. The method uses a hydrogel embedded with triple helix microRNA particles. A hydrogel is a form of cross-linked polymer (composed of water-attracting polymer chains.) Because hydrogels can change structure in response to varying levels of salt concentration, pH and temperature, some have dubbed the compounds "smart materials." The structure is changed through the absorption of different levels of water. Hydrogels have many potential applications, especially in the field of biomedicine.
Hydrogels act as the platform for the new treatment. The cancer battling components are microRNAs. MicroRNA is a small non-coding RNA molecule. The recently discovered genetic components are found in plants, animals and certain viruses. In mammals, they function to ‘fine tune’ protein-encoding genes. The molecules have been shown to be involved with stem cell differentiation and skeletal muscle formation, among other biological processes. MicroRNAs have also been associated with certain diseases, like cancers, heart disease and neurological diseases, functioning as biological markers.
With the new research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists, led by Dr. João Conde, developed a hydrogel embedded with triple helix microRNA particles and this was used it to treat cancer in mice. With the process, the research group successfully deployed gene therapy to shrink tumors in mice, reared with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
The triple helix was formed from two microRNAs: a miR mimic (tumour suppressor miRNA) and an antagomiR (oncomiR inhibitor). These took the form of stable triplex nanoparticles. The hydrogel vehicle was formed from dextran aldehyde.
In comparative studies, it was found treating breast cancer mice with microRNA delivered as a triple helix was considerably more effective compared with standard chemotherapy treatments. With the triple helix treatment, tumors shrank 90 percent and the mice survived for up to 75 days, In contrast, the mice treated with conventional chemotherapy, and they use of single and double strands of the same microRNA, lived for less than one week.
The research is published in the journal Nature Materials, in a paper titled “Self-assembled RNA-triple-helix hydrogel scaffold for microRNA modulation in the tumour microenvironment.”
More about Cancer treatment, hydrogel, microRNA, Cancer
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