Controlling Inflammation

Technique for curbing inflammatory cells could help ward off heart disease and cancer

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.

Get stories like this before anyone else with First Look.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.