Skip to Content
MIT News magazine

Controlling Inflammation

Technique for curbing inflammatory cells could help ward off heart disease and cancer
December 20, 2011

Using short snippets of RNA to turn off a specific gene in certain immune cells, MIT researchers have shown that they can reduce the inflammation responsible for diseases such as atherosclerosis, other forms of heart disease, and some cancers.

Inflammation, one of the body’s defenses against disease and injury, helps wounds and infections heal, but too much inflammation can damage tissues. When fat and cholesterol build up on artery walls, for example, they produce inflammation that leads to atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries.

The MIT researchers’ technique for curbing inflammation relies on RNA interference, which disrupts the flow of genetic information from a cell’s nucleus to its protein-­building machinery. The key to successful RNA interference is finding a safe and effective way to deliver short strands of RNA that can bind with and destroy messenger RNA, which carries instructions from the nucleus.

In a recent study published in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers delivered short strands of RNA that turn down the inflammation response by blocking activity of a specific gene in white blood cells called monocytes. Packaged in nanoparticles made from a layer of fatlike molecules called ­lipidoids, the RNA successfully reduced inflammation in mice, without side effects.

The RNA snippets targeted the gene for the CCR2 receptor, a protein on the surface of monocytes. Without this receptor, monocytes cannot receive the signals they need to travel to the injury site and cause inflammation. Mice treated with this type of RNA showed much lower levels of inflammation in atherosclerosis, cancer, and recovery from heart attack.

Study authors Daniel Anderson and ­Robert Langer, ScD ‘74, both faculty members in MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, have developed similar nanoparticles to deliver RNA interference treatments for other diseases, including liver and ovarian cancers. “These kinds of approaches have a lot of potential for many different diseases,” Anderson says.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.