Researches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed a potentially groundbreaking tool for helping treat lung disease. Their design? One might find the answer rather surprising: inhalable mRNA.
What is mRNA?
Also known as messenger ribonucleic acid, mRNA is a subunit of RNA, and is responsible for carrying the genetic information copied from DNA in the form of a code. More specifically, mRNA is synthesized during transcription. As explained in the article, mRNA, “encodes genetic instructions that stimulate cells to produce specific proteins.” Click here to learn more about mRNA.
Inhalable mRNA? Yes, you read that correctly. Essentially, patients would inhale the mRNA in an aerosol form. By doing such, the mRNA would come into direct contact with the patient’s lung’s cells, which would then trigger the production of “therapeutic” proteins. As stated in the article, such mRNA molecules, “[turn] the patients’ own cells into drug factories.” If done successfully, mRNA has the potential to treat a myriad of lung-related illnesses, cystic fibrosis among them. Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, expresses confidence regarding the findings, stating, “We think the ability to deliver mRNA via inhalation could allow us to treat a range of different disease of the lung.”
Presently, scientists face the challenge of targeting cells with the mRNA aerosol molecules by using methods which are both safe and efficient. Additionally, scientists are tasked with the challenge of transporting these mRNA molecules in protective carriers, as the body’s natural reaction is to break mRNA down.
In order to determine the impact of inhalable mRNA, Dr. Daniel Anderson has successfully manipulated a mice’s lung cells to produce a target protein. Dr. Anderson and his lab have begun designing materials which can transport mRNA to organs such as the liver. In particular, he and his lab utilized polyethylenimine (PEI), as it doesn’t break down easily. However, this very aspect of the polymer has the potential to cause side effects. In an effort to avoid these unwanted symptoms, the team moved on to a biodegradable material called “hyperbranched poly”. To test this material, the scientists converted the material into a droplet form, using a nebulizer to deliver the inhalable mist to a group of mice. Twenty four hours later, the team found that the mice were indeed producing the sought-after bioluminescent protein. Moreover, with the decrease in mRNA dosage came the decrease in protein production.
Pictured above is polyethylenimine (PEI), the initial polymer used in Dr. Anderson’s experiment.
The Future of Inhalable mRNA:
Such developments, such as those performed by Dr. Anderson and his team, increase the potential reality of testing on patients. To read the full findings of the aforementioned experiment, click here.