Nanotechnology is often perceived to be a ‘miracle technology’ or a ‘holy grail’ that can fix many problems, especially in medical sciences.
But even for people with a basic understanding of the potential of nanotechnology, the idea that gold nanoparticles (GNPs) could be part of a solution to fix neurological disorders sounds far-fetched.
However, GNPs are not only being used in revolutionary gene editing procedures, but early evidence shows they are actually outperforming traditional methods such as viral vectors.
A recent article in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering highlighted the key role played by GNPs in enhancing gene editing inside the brain of live mice using CRISPR technology.
CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat, and also known as CRISPR Cas9 (CRISPR associated protein 9) is a system found in bacteria that is used by bacteria to “cut up” the DNA of bacterial viruses that might otherwise kill them.
Scientists have adapted this mechanism into a simple but powerful gene editing technique.
In the study, scientists from the University of Texas, University of California at Berkeley and a Berkeley-based company used CRISPR gene editing inside an adult brain and were able to correct fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Gold nanoparticles loaded with the Cas9 enzyme were injected into a specific part of a mouse’s brain.
These particles then eventually carried the Cas9 to some specific receptors related to repetitive behavior.
The gene responsible for producing this receptor was silenced and the repetitive behavior of the animal was reduced by 70%.
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In a press release, the lead author of the study Hye Young Lee said using viruses has limitations because a virus can express unwanted proteins.
Like most things to do with CRISPR, the idea of editing the brains of people with neurological disorders naturally raises a number of ethical questions, including whether we should even suggest that the brains of people on the autism spectrum need fixing.
Lee emphasized this was not the solution, but said it might be possible using the technology to allow autistic people to treat unwanted symptoms of their condition – such as repetitive behaviors – just like they might with medicine, with the difference that CRISPR changes would likely be permanent.
The virus DNA in the brain can have side effects because it doesn’t go away once the CRISPR operation is done.
Using gold nanoparticles removes the issue of foreign DNA that produces damaging proteins, one of the central issues of CRISPR.
The scope of this technology could be huge, with the potential to help treat patients with brain-related conditions such as Huntington’s Disease, epilepsy, chronic pain, or even addiction.
As a scientist working in the field of gold nanoparticles, this is an exciting and encouraging piece of research.
Gold nanoparticle powered technology has a myriad of potential applications in life sciences and beyond, and Sona Nanotech is proud to be at the forefront of developments in this groundbreaking field.