Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Biological Engineering Mehmet Fatih Yank and EECS graduate student Matthew Angel have reported a new method of delivering genes to cells -- enabling them to revert to an immature state in which they can be any type of cell. Yanik and Angel have published the work titled "Extended transient transfection by repeated delivery of in vitro-transcribed RNA" in the July 23 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.
As reported by the MIT News Office, July 25, 2010, the ability of cells to be transformed to this immature state known as pluripotency, holds the promise of treating diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease by transforming the patients’ own cells into replacements for the nonfunctioning tissue.
To deliver the genes necessary to reprogram cells to a pluripotent state, however, scientists use viruses carrying DNA, which then becomes integrated into the cell’s own DNA. This so-called DNA-based reprogramming however, carries the risk of disrupting the cell’s genome, leading it to become cancerous.
Yanik and Angel decided to use RNA, the genetic material that normally ferries instructions from DNA to the cell’s protein-making machinery, avoiding the dangers associated with using viruses as the carrier of the genetic material. Specifically, the team decided to transfect cells (or introduce DNA or RNA into a cell without using viruses to deliver them) using messenger RNA (mRNA), a short-lived molecule that carries genetic instructions copied from DNA.
At this point, Yanik and Angel say they cannot yet claim to have reprogrammed the cells into a pluripotent state until the treated cells can develop in the lab for a longer period of time. Further, they will need to study the cells' ability to develop into other cell types. All this is now underway in their lab. Their key achievement is demonstrating that the genes necessary for reprogramming can be delivered with RNA.
MIT News Office, July 26, article by Anne Trafton, "RNA offers a safer way to reprogram cells New technique holds promise to revert cells to an immature state that can develop into any cell type."