Nano, Nano: Tiny Lipid Particles with Big Therapeutic Potential

cell-transfection-viafect-luciferase-assayGetting DNA or RNA into cells can be a tricky business, and a variety of transfection reagents have been developed over the years to make the process easier. Lipid-based reagents are especially popular because they combine efficient transfection with relatively low toxicity.

When it comes to transfection, it pays to think small. Human cells range in volume from 20–40 µm3 (sperm cells) to as large as 4 million µm3 (mature egg cells, or oocytes). For several decades, transfection reagents have targeted this size range. However, breakthrough research involves leaving the “micro” realm and entering a world that was once the domain only of science fiction: nanotechnology. Continue reading

Magnetic Bacteria Carry Drugs into Tumors

cancer cellAt first glance, the biology of magnetic, underwater-dwelling, oxygen-averse bacteria may seem of little relevance to our most pressing human health problems. But science is full of surprises. A paper published this week in Nature Nanotechnology presents an inspired use of these bacteria to deliver anti-cancer drugs to tumors, specifically targeting the oxygen-starved regions generated by aggressively proliferating cells. Continue reading

Graphene: It Does Everything (Including Blow My Mind)

GrapheneSince I started working for Promega in 1999 (goodness, it’s been that long?), one of the “side benefits” I’ve enjoyed is the exposure I’ve gotten to science. See, I’m not a scientist, nor did I particularly love science in school. I was definitely more of an English/language arts/communication type person. Science wasn’t my strong suit, and — confession time — I didn’t find it all that interesting.

And then I grew up and got a job at a life science company, and now? Science is pretty awesome. I get my mind blown on a very regular basis. Most recently, my jaw is on the floor over graphene.

Have you heard of graphene? I hadn’t, until I happened upon an article about it. It’s been around for a while, though, so it’s entirely possible I’m just late to the party. Graphene is a material that was first isolated in 2005. It’s made from a layer of carbon one atom thick and was confirmed in 2008 as the world’s strongest known material. It’s flexible and more conductive than copper or silicon, and the potential uses for it are pretty inspiring. Continue reading

Nanoparticles – Workhorses That Bring Tremendous Benefit

Tiny particles found in clothing, cosmetics, food, electronics or furniture enter our bodies and behave in unexpected (sometimes unwanted) ways. However, in the realm of medicine another type of particle called the nanoparticle can bring untold potential. We can load them with drugs, for example, and deliver them precisely to a diseased organ or cell. Mark Davis from the California Institute of Technology has created nanoparticles that deliver siRNA specifically into melanomas. Davis and his colleagues have not shied away from making bold claims about the therapeutic potential of their work.  They write:

“When taken together, the data presented here provide the first, to our knowledge, mechanistic evidence of RNAi in a human from an administered siRNA. Moreover, these data demonstrate the first example of dose-dependent accumulation of targeted nanoparticles in human tumours. ….These data demonstrate that RNAi can occur in a human from a systemically delivered siRNA, and that siRNA can be used as a gene-specific therapeutic.” Davis et al. 2010. Continue reading

The Aladdin’s Cave Of Bio-inspired Materials And Devices

The Gecko's FootA Review of Peter Forbes’ The Gecko’s Foot- Bio-inspiration: Engineering New Materials from Nature’

Bioinspiration is a relatively new field of science that is trying to replicate the phenomena and designs of nature in ways that are of benefit to man. The manner in which a gecko’s foot allows it to climb glass, the way in which the wings of a butterfly sparkle in the sunlight and the complex methods of flight used by insects have all inspired technologists to emulate nature. More recently the cellular world with its molecular machines has provided a source of ideas for nanotechnological design. This ‘nanorealm’ of the cell has become the last frontier of natural exploration. Bioinspiration has likewise brought together disparate disciplines of science to tackle some of the major challenges of engineering and medicine – proteins that stick onto silica chips, for example, that may one day help in finding a cure for cancer. Continue reading