A group of bioengineers from Arizona State University (ASU) have created a new process for the insertion of synthetic gene chains into host cells. This discovery has significant implications for improving the effectiveness of many treatments for diseases.
Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary field of research that uses engineering principles to create biological components not found in the natural world. These synthetic components mimic natural organisms, but are adapted to fight diseases, including cancer.
A recent article in the journal Communications describes how gene chains can be reconfigured so that they do not overwhelm host cells.
“We link them together like Lego chains and insert them into the host cell,” explains lead author Xiaojun Tian, assistant professor at the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering at ASU. “The links in the chain are designed to perform different functions, but they must compete with each other for limited resources.”
Competition for resources has been a problem in synthetic biology since its inception 20 years ago.
Now scientists have developed a way to insert individual gene chains into multiple host cells that work together. Each cell performs a specific function, eliminating unwanted competition for the resources of any host cell. Instead of sharing resources, each cell can handle 100% of its assigned workload. Host cells work as a whole without depleting a single cell’s resources – and each gene chain is a winner.
The technology has widespread use in cancer treatment, and there will be opportunities for other diseases on the horizon. 90% of cancer deaths are due to metastasis – the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body. However, treatment resistance is still a major problem in cancer treatment.
There are many different types of cells in a cancerous mass. Some cells are sensitive to chemotherapy, while others are not, which causes resistance to treatment. Scientists propose to design a new multitasking configuration of synthetic gene circuits in order to prevent cell metastasis in the first place while making them more susceptible to treatment. Multicellular synthetic regimens will be a much more effective treatment for cancer than existing methods, scientists are sure.