Turning DNA into a therapeutic treatment usually means delivering the genetic material directly into cells where it can act as native DNA does, coding for needed proteins. Now researchers are using DNA in a new class of drugs that rev up the immune system, potentially helping to boost vaccines’ power and even to fight cancer-all without ever entering a cell.
The new drugs consist of short synthetic DNA segments that mimic gene sequences found only in bacteria. The segments bind to receptors on the surface of immune cells; the cells interpret the molecules as signs of a bacterial infection and respond by ramping up the body’s defenses. The first use of the technology in humans is likely to be with vaccines, in order to boost the immune system’s response to inoculation, says Ethan Shevach, an immunologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In tests on animals, the DNA segments are “unbelievably good,” Shevach says.
Dynavax in Emeryville, CA, has completed early human-safety trials of an immune-stimulating DNA sequence, which when combined with a standard hepatitis B vaccine, seems to help the vaccine take effect faster and with fewer injections. Because slightly different DNA sequences may preferentially trigger specific elements of the immune system, the drugs can be tailored for particular uses such as activating natural killer cells, which attack cancerous cells. Shevach believes that the DNA fragment technology “will have a greater use [with] vaccines than as a stand-alone drug,” but even that would be greatly welcomed by researchers.
|A SLICE OF THE SYNTHETIC DNA MARKET|
|Coley Pharmaceutical (Wellesley, MA)||Alergies, asthma, hepatitis B||Human trials|
|Dynavax (Emeryville, CA)||Allergies, cancer, hepatitis B||Human trials|
|Hybridon (Cambridge, MA)||Cancer||Animal Research|
These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems
They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.
Surgeons have successfully tested a pig’s kidney in a human patient
The test, in a brain-dead patient, was very short but represents a milestone in the long quest to use animal organs in human transplants.
A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click
Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.
The covid tech that is intimately tied to China’s surveillance state
Heat-sensing cameras and face recognition systems may help fight covid-19—but they also make us complicit in the high-tech oppression of Uyghurs.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.