Gold particles could be used in gene therapy according to a study by Fred Hutchinson’s Cancer Research Center published in Nature Materials. In particular, gold nanoparticles can be used to modify genes in a rare but powerful subset of blood stem cells. This method could be used to make gene modification tools for HIV and hereditary blood diseases.
This is because gold nanoparticles, made up of very small spheres of one-billionth the size of a grain of kitchen salt, have a particular surface that allows the other molecules to stick and remain attached.
As Reza Shahbazi, a researcher who has also worked with gold nanoparticles to administer drugs in past years, explains, these gold nanoparticles can “quickly cross the cell membrane, dodge cell organelles trying to destroy them and go directly to the cell nucleus to modify genes.”
In particular, the researchers found that a particular size of these tiny spheres, i.e. 19 nanometres in diameter, is particularly effective because it is neither too large nor too small and makes the spheres sufficiently “sticky” so that genetic editing materials can be added to their surface.
“I wanted to find something simpler, something that would passively transmit gene editing to blood stem cells,” says Jennifer Adair, senior author of the study.
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