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Scientists arrange protein-nanoparticle marriage

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The image above illustrates how proteins (copper-colored coils) modified with polyhistidine-tags (green diamonds) can be attached to nanoparticles (red circle). Credit: Jonathan Lovell/University at Buffalo.

Fastening protein-based medical treatments to nanoparticles isn’t easy. With arduous chemistry, scientists can do it. But like a doomed marriage, the fragile binding that holds them together often separates. This problem, which has limited how doctors can use proteins to treat serious disease, may soon change. University at Buffalo researchers have discovered a way to easily and effectively fasten proteins to nanoparticles – essentially an arranged marriage – by simply mixing them together. While in its infancy, the model already has shown promise for developing an HIV vaccine and as a way to target cancer cells. “Scientists have been able to attach proteins to nanoparticles for a while now. But it’s a fairly difficult process that’s only effective in a controlled environment. Nobody has been able to devise a simple method that can work inside the body,” said Jonathan F. Lovell, PhD, UB assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who led the research. He added: “We have proven that you can easily attach proteins to nanoparticles and, like Velcro that doesn’t unstick, it stays together.” Additional authors include researchers from UB’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Department of Microbiology and Immunology. The teams’ results were exciting, with the new binding model acting like a homing missile to tumors. The targeted nanoparticles have the potential to improve cancer treatment by targeting specific cancer cells in lieu of releasing anti-cancer drugs everywhere in the body. Lovell plans to follow up the research with more rigorous testing of the vaccine and tumor-targeted technologies. Moving to human clinical trials is the ultimate goal.