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Researchers use 'cloaked' proteins to deliver cancer-killing therapeutics into cells

ANI May 30, 2024

Researchers at Cornell University have created a generalised method for "cloaking" proteins, which may allow for the recycling of materials like antibodies for biological research and therapeutic applications.

Lipid nanoparticles, which resemble tiny bubbles of fat, can ensnare the "cloaked" proteins. Because of their microscopic size, these bubbles are able to secretly deliver their cargo into living cells, where the proteins unfold and begin to work as medicine.
The group's paper was published in ACS Central Science.

The lead author is doctoral student Azmain Alamgir, who works in the labs of the paper's co-senior authors, Chris Alabi, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Matt DeLisa, professor of engineering.

For some drugs to impact a cell's biology, and ultimately treat disease, they need to get inside the cell and reach a specific space.

Protein-based therapeutics have many virtues - they can have more specific effects, with lower toxicity and diminished immune response - but ease of delivery is not one of them. Proteins are large and cumbersome and don't diffuse freely into cells as easily as small molecules.

"We had been looking for a clever way to efficiently get our engineered proteins inside of cells, especially in a translational context that would not only work in lab-cultured cells, but that would also be effective and safe in experimental models and eventually in humans," DeLisa said.

The researchers had the broad idea of using a bioconjugation approach that would allow the proteins to be loaded into lipid nanoparticles, which form around nucleic acids.

A major advantage of this approach was that lipid nanoparticles were a key component in the successful COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Those vaccines worked by delivering a payload in the form of messenger RNA, which are nucleic acids. The researchers now would use the same lipid nanoparticle delivery concept - the same materials even - but with a protein payload. The trick would be to make proteins look more like nucleic acids.

The researchers found they could accomplish this by "cloaking" the proteins with a negatively charged ion, so they would join with the positively charged lipids electrostatically.

"The crux of our strategy is conceptually very simple," Alamgir said. "We're taking proteins and specifically remodelling their surfaces with negative charges, so they look like nucleic acids and can similarly assemble into nanoparticles when formulated with the characteristic lipids."

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