Monday, March 15, 2010
For the first time, scientists have fully emptied the Cowpea mosaic virus of its genetic material rendering it non-infectious. Particles of the virus can now be used as nano luggage that carries therapeutic agents directly to diseased cells. The paper entitled Cowpea Mosaic Virus Unmodified Empty Virus-Like Particles Can Be Loaded with Metal and Metal Oxide was published in the specialized nanotechnology journal Small. A ScienceDaily article explains the implications of this research:
[S]cientists have succeeded in growing empty particles derived from a plant virus and have made them carry useful chemicals. The external surface of these nano containers could be decorated with molecules that guide them to where they are needed in the body, before the chemical load is discharged to exert its effect on diseased cells. The containers are particles of the Cowpea mosaic virus, which is ideally suited for designing biomaterial at the nanoscale.
Scientists have previously tried to empty virus particles of their genetic material using irradiation or chemical treatment. Though successful in rendering the particles non-infectious, these methods have not fully emptied the particles.
One application could be in cancer treatment. Integrins are molecules that appear on cancer cells. The virus particles could be coated externally with peptides that bind to integrins. This would mean the particles seek out cancer cells to the exclusion of healthy cells. Once bound to the cancer cell, the virus particle would release an anti-cancer agent that has been carried as an internal cargo. Some current drugs damage healthy cells as well as the cancer, leading to hair loss and other side effects. This technology could deliver the drug in a more targeted way.