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Protein booster may lead to shots of DNA.

Scientists have discovered a new way to manipulate how cells function, a finding that might help advance an experimental approach to improving public health: DNA vaccines, which could be more efficient, less expensive, and easier to store than traditional vaccines.

This approach improves upon an existing laboratory technique, transfection, widely used to study how cells and viruses work. Jaquelin Dudley, professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas, Austin, and her team have developed a method for boosting the amounts of certain proteins a host cell produces when genes are delivered by transfection. Coaxing cells to produce novel proteins, such as those associated with viruses, is a key feature of DNA vaccines. Dudley's method causes cells to produce novel proteins at levels five to 20 times as high as with previous methods.

The researchers suggest that their finding might lead to better DNA vaccines, a relatively new method of vaccination that health specialists say would increase vaccination rates, especially in the developing world. Whereas traditional vaccines train the body to attack viruses by introducing weakened forms of the virus, a DNA vaccine works differently, using a bit of DNA specified by a virus to prompt the production of proteins that lead to immunity.

By boosting the amount of proteins produced by the hosts' cells, this method might invoke a stronger immune response in patients receiving a DNA vaccine and, by making smaller vaccine doses possible, it also might reduce the risk that the patients immune system inadvertently would attack healthy host cells.

The scientists' discovery also could help advance another experimental approach: gene therapies, which treat genetic disorders by replacing or disrupting genes that are not working properly. Gene therapies targeting Parkinson's, hemophilia, leukemia, cystic fibrosis, and many other diseases are being developed, but gene therapies have proved difficult, as they sometimes induce a cancer or trigger an immune response against cells with the introduced genes. The new method for boosting novel protein production might prevent these effects by allowing the insertion of smaller amounts of DNA.

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Title Annotation:Vaccination
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2015
Words:338
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