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Tiny, magnetic spheres may help overcome gene therapy hurdle

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The average person's heart pumps about a gallon of blood per minute, a rate that can easily triple or quadruple during exercise.

The rapid flow of blood through the body is a major roadblock to the use of gene therapy to cure diseases. When injected into the blood, vector viruses which carry corrective genes tend to shoot past the target organ or tissue rather than sticking to it, like grains of sand moving past stones in a fast-flowing river.

Now, University of Florida gene therapy and biomedical engineering researchers have demonstrated a novel approach to the problem. In a July article in Molecular Therapy, they report attaching the adeno-associated virus, a widely used gene carrier, to the surface of tiny manufactured balls known as microspheres, each containing a miniscule particle of iron oxide. Using a magnet placed under culture dishes, the researchers were able to coax large amounts of the microspheres to target areas of the cultures. In related experiments in mice, the researchers showed the microspheres clung to cells or organs longer than the virus alone did.

The procedure, reminiscent of the toy that moves magnetized objects beneath transparent plastic, could someday evolve into a treatment that would enable doctors to guide corrective gene-containing microspheres injected into a patient with magnets placed outside the skin. Such procedures, could, for example, replace invasive catheterizations used to treat lung and heart diseases, the researchers said.

"By packaging the virus with the microsphere, we both guided it to the targeted area and got it to stick there," said Barry Byrne, the lead researcher and a pediatric cardiologist with the UF College of Medicine who is affiliated with the UF Genetics Institute.

Byrne and Cathryn Mah, an assistant research professor in the department of pediatrics, collaborated on the project with UF colleagues in pharmaceutics, genetics, and materials science a
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Contact: Barry Byrne
bbyrne@ufl.edu
352-846-1531
University of Florida
18-Sep-2002


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