Boston Researchers use RNA to “Switch Off” Inflammation; New Treatments for Cancer and Atherosclerosis Could Result

Posted by erik devaney

Courtesy of wikipedia/Vossman

Inflammation, or the reddening and swelling of tissue, is a natural strategy that the body uses to help injuries and infections heal.

Unfortunately, the body can sometimes overcompensate, causing excessive inflammation. Such inflammation is harmful and – in some instances – can lead to heart attack and stroke.

In an effort to take control of inflammation, a multi-institutional team of researchers (from MIT, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, the Harrison School of Pharmacy and South Korea’s Seoul National University) came together and began experimenting with RNA. The researchers discovered that by targeting specific immune cells with snippets of RNA, they could effectively switch off inflammation.

More specifically, the researchers targeted monocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. When parts of the body become injured or infected, monocytes flock to the site and stimulate inflammation.

Matthias Nahrendorf (MD, PhD)

“Recently, we learned about monocyte subsets, and that inflammatory monocytes are involved in many diseases,” Matthias Nahrendorf told New England Post. Nahrendorf, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Systems Biology and Harvard Medical School, is a senior author of the team’s paper that recently appeared in Nature Biotechnology.

“The last decade has brought many new insights,” Nahrendorf continued. “The differential roles of monocyte subsets made us think that it would be good to only target inflammatory monocytes, which are recruited using the receptor CCR2.”

Allow me to translate.

The researchers use RNA (which they package inside of incredibly tiny fat cells), to block the gene for the CCR2 receptor. By blocking this specific gene, the researchers can prevent monocytes for responding to injuries and infections. This, in turn, switches off inflammation.

When the researchers tested their RNA anti-inflammatory strategy on mice suffering from cancer and clogged, hardened arteries (also known as atherosclerosis), they found that inflammation was significantly reduced.

Perhaps more notably, the researchers discovered that tumors grew more slowly in mice that were given the RNA treatment.

According to Nahrendorf, this innovative approach to stopping inflammation will be helping human patients battle cancer and atherosclerosis in 5 to 10 years.

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Posted by erik devaney on Oct 10 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article, Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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