R. Mark Payne, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist and researcher at Brenner Children's Hospital, has discovered a new way to transmit proteins across cell membranes a finding that in the future might prevent or treat diseases like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Trifunctional Protein (TFP) deficiency in infants and their mothers.
"The treatment involves getting the right protein into the cells or mitochondria they need to function properly," Payne said. "Mitochondria produce most of the energy within cells and defects in their function are among the most common genetic defects in the United States and currently can not be prevented."
Some genetic defects occur when mitochondria lack a certain protein, which cause babies, and in some cases their mothers, to become sick and die, Payne said. Current gene therapy attempts have tried injecting the patient with a virus that corrects the defect. However, the effectiveness of this approach is very poor and the side effects aren't good patients may die from the treatments, according to Payne.
"Instead of injecting a virus into the cells, we want to take the needed protein and inject only that protein into the cells," Payne said. "This is highly efficient technology the needed proteins get absorbed and are positioned correctly within the mitochondria located in the cell, which is necessary to correct the defect."
Payne and his colleagues say this new technology could mean that mothers suffering from genetic abnormalities such as TFP may be able to receive injections until their due date preventing premature delivery and sometimes death for both the mother and infant.