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June 6th, 2008
Human cells could have their metabolisms upgraded without altering their genes by inserting tiny plastic packages of enzymes, Swiss researchers have shown. They hope the technique could allow advanced cancer therapies, or even upgrade a person's metabolism.
The cells of multi-cellular organisms and some advanced single-celled organisms have internal compartments called organelles to carry out specialised metabolic functions. Researchers at University of Basel, Switzerland, used artificial polymer organelles to upgrade live human cells in a lab dish.
Meier and colleagues coated their polymer vesicles in a chemical that encouraged human white blood cells called macrophages to engulf them. The small capsules contained enzymes, just like natural organelles. The enzymes chosen produced fluorescent chemicals, signalling they were working without problems inside their new host.
The artificial organelle's membrane can be chemically tuned to control which chemicals can pass through it and regulate the reactions inside, according to Wolfgang Meier, one of the researchers. "We call it a 'nanoreactor'," he says.
At 200 nanometres across, the organelles are 400 times smaller in width than a human hair.
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