Controlled cellular sabotage

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed a biomaterial system to permit better control over what our cells do, which could halt the growth of unwanted cells or even guide cell behavior in tissue engineering.

They are experimenting with genes called small interfering RNA (siRNA). Since siRNA inhibits gene expression in cells, scientists would like to use it to block tumor growth or guide cells in engineered tissues.

But siRNA is so small that it dissipates quickly in the body-often too quickly for it to have an effect on targeted cells.

So a team of Case Western Reserve scientists tried packaging siRNA in a special fluid mix that helps keep the genetic material in place long enough to redirect the fate of targeted cells.

The method of local delivery helps keep the siRNA on target, says biomedical engineer Eben Alsberg, PhD.

By experimenting with the formula of the mix, researchers also can control how long the targeted cells are exposed to the siRNA, which has promise in developing treatments based on the system.

Alsberg and his team are exploring and refining the technology for use in both disease treatment and tissue engineering applications.