Researchers from the University of Utah and the University of Washington have developed self-assembling nanocages that are packaged within cell membranes and exported to travel from cell to cell, delivering therapeutics. The team’s work was published in Nature.
The drug delivery system is inspired by a mechanism used by viruses to spread their infectious materials among cells in a host’s body.”We’re shifting our perception from viruses as pathogens, to viruses as inspiration for new tools,” co-senior author Wesley Sundquist said in prepared remarks. Adding specific genetic code from viruses to the nanocages enabled them to undock from 1 cell, travel to another and dock there to empty its contents.
The team learned from viruses that their delivery system had to include an ability to grasp cell membranes, self-assemble and be released from cells. If any of these functions were neglected, the system didn’t work.
In this study, the nanocages encased materials that the researchers used to track the system as it moved. The next step is to design nanocages to deliver therapeutics, the team said. Changes can be made to the system, like swapping in a differently shaped cage.
The proof-of-concept study showed that the virus-inspired system works, but the team still needs to determine if the nanocages can last for long periods of time within living animals and if they can deliver drugs in therapeutic quantities.
“As long as we keep pushing knowledge forward we can guarantee there will be good outcomes, though we can’t guarantee what or when,” Sundquist said.