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Date [ 2016-02-04, 10:42 ]

Better method of detecting infectious diseases developed at A*STAR.


Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR have discovered a more efficient DNA technology to detect and treat infectious diseases. The extra good news is that cancer is also on the list.

They did this by improving on existing technologies to create a modified single-stranded DNA molecule called aptamer. These have been found to be ideal for pharmaceutical applications as they can specifically bind to any molecular unit in the body, such as proteins, viruses, bacteria and cells.

It is impressive to note that once DNA aptamers are artificially generated for each target, they will bind to it and inhibit its activity. This makes DNA aptamers a promising technology for disease detection and drug delivery. The bad news is that so far, no DNA aptamers have been approved for clinical use just yet. This is because current aptamers do not bind well to molecular targets and are easily digested by enzymes.
“To overcome these challenges, we have created a DNA aptamer with strong binding ability and stability with superior efficacy. We hope to use our DNA aptamers as the platform technology for diagnostics and new drug development,” said IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y. Ying.

This study, led by IBN Principal Research Scientist and Team Leader, Dr. Ichiro Hirao, created the necessary interest when it was recently published in the journal, Scientific Reports.

To overcome the weak binding problem, the research team added a new artificial component. It is described as an unnatural base to a standard DNA aptamer. A typical DNA aptamer has only four components. The addition of the fifth component to it, greatly enhanced its binding ability to the molecular target by 100 times more as compared to conventional DNA aptamers. Furthermore, to prevent the aptamer from being digested easily by enzymes, a unique and small DNA called ‘mini-hairpin DNA’ was added to it.

DrHirao explained, “The mini-hairpin DNAs have an unusually stable and compact stem-loop structure, like a hairpin, of small DNA fragments. Their structure strongly resists the digestive enzymes, so I added them to specific positions on the DNA aptamer to act as a protective shield. Usually DNAs are digested within one hour in blood at body temperature. With the mini-hairpin DNA, our DNA aptamers can survive for days instead of hours. This is important for pharmaceutical applications, which require the therapeutic to remain in the body for a longer period.”

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