Study Shows Promise in Using RNA Nanotechnology to Treat Cancer Is College’s Monthly Publication Highlight

Feb 01, 2013

A University of Kentucky article published in Nano Today has been selected as the UK College of Pharmacy’s Monthly Publication Highlight for February. The project shows promise for developing ultrastable RNA nanoparticles that may help treat cancer and viral infections by regulating cell function and binding to cancer cells without harming surrounding tissue.

The study was carried out in the laboratory of Peixuan Guo, the William S. Farish Endowed Chair in Nanobiotechnology in the UK College of Pharmacy and the UK Markey Cancer Center, in collaboration with Mark Evers, Director of UK’s Markey Cancer Center.

In addition to Dr. Evers and Markey team member Dr. Piotr Rychahou, Dr. Guo's research team at UK also includes Farzin Haque, first author on the paper; Dan Shu; Yi Shu; and Luda Shlyakhtenko.

“This Monthly Publication Highlight showcases how our faculty are committed to collaborating with fellow UK investigators,” said Linda Dwoskin, Associate Dean for Research for the UK College of Pharmacy. “The research is groundbreaking work that increases the university’s visibility considering that Nano Today currently has an impact factor of 15. Moreover, this research may lead to exciting new discoveries in cancer therapy.”

The project uses RNA (ribonucleic acid) as a building block for the bottom-up fabrication of nanostructures. Using the RNA nanotechnology pioneered by Dr. Guo, the researchers constructed ultrastable X-shaped RNA nanoparticles using re-engineered RNA fragments to carry up to four therapeutic and diagnostic modules. Their RNA nanoparticles can include small interfering RNA for silencing genes, micro-RNA for regulating gene expression, aptamer for targeting cancer cells, or a ribozyme that can catalyze chemical reactions.

The research demonstrated that regulation of cellular functions progressively increased with the increasing number of functional modules in the nanoparticle.

"RNA nanotechnology is an emerging field, but the instability and degradation of RNA nanoparticles have made many scientists flinch away from research in RNA nanotechnology,” Dr. Guo said. “We have addressed these issues, and now it is possible to produce RNA nanoparticles that are highly stable both chemically and thermodynamically in the test tube or in the body with great potential as therapeutic reagents.”

The RNA nanoparticles displayed several favorable attributes: polyvalent nature, which allows simultaneous delivery of multiple functional molecules for achieving synergistic effects; modular design, which enables controlled self-assembly with defined structure; thermodynamic stablity, which keeps the RNA nanoparticles intact in animal and human circulation systems, where they exist at very low concentrations; and chemical stablity, which makes the nanoparticles resistant to digestion by RNase (an enzyme, which cleaves RNA) in the blood serum.

“A major problem with cancer treatments is the ability to more directly and specifically deliver anti-cancer drugs to cancer metastases," Dr. Evers said. "Using the nanotechnology approach that Peixuan Guo and his group have devised may allow us to more effectively treat cancer metastasis with fewer side effects compared to current chemotherapy.”

Original article: Haque F, Shu D, Shu Y, Shlyakhtenko L, Rychahou P, Evers M, Guo P. Ultrastable synergistic tetravalent RNA nanoparticles for targeting to cancers. Nano Today. 2012 Aug;7(4):245–57. Link:

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