Gene therapy is one of the treatments for defective genes that cause cancer, autoimmune disease, and infections. Researchers led by the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in California developed a microneedle to deliver genetic material.

The new study has been published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials describing a detachable hybrid microneedle depot that delivers mesenchymal stem cells. The genetic material then produces proteins to treat damaged or defected cells.

The concept of gene therapy has been around since the 1960s. The development of recombinant DNA has been the base of several vaccines and has enabled scientists to clone animals.

Gene Therapy Using Microneedles

Using a systematic delivery in the form of injections for mesenchymal stem cells (MCSs) may result in the accumulation of tissue that makes the genes unstable. Previous developments include encapsulating the genetic material to improve stability but results in low efficiency.

To avoid those two problems, especially since conventional syringes are highly invasive, the team developed a tiny needle platform containing an array of minimally invasive microneedles. In the past, said Ali Khademhosseini, microneedles have successfully and painlessly delivered drugs targeting specific tissue. The new method was developed alongside scientists from The University of California's Department of Bioengineering and Center for Minimally Invasive Therapeutics and Sichuan Agricultural University.

Microneedle Patch Can Deliver Genetic Material to Target Defective Cells
(Photo: Magnified view of the underside of a microneedle patch. The patch used in our study was 1.0 cm x 1.0 cm with an 11 x 11 array of needles, but the size of the patch and the number of needles can be customized./Terasaki Institute)

The new method also had to be easily deliverable via the skin, which contains fluid, lymph vessels, and immune cells that can easily and immediately interact with genetic material during treatment. However, another challenge is avoiding inflammation or toxicity while the MSCs go through the layers of the skin.

The microneedles are composed of therapeutic genes within biocompatible material and nanoparticles. The MSCs are then molded into the microneedle patch array that can be placed on the skin.
Once the needles release the therapeutic genes, nanoparticles will begin a degradation process making the microneedles biodegradable. The scientists can also adjust the biomaterial preparation to control the timing and sustainability of releasing the nanoparticles.

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Microneedle Patch for Multiple Clinical Applications

Tests on mice models with wounds proved the efficacy of the new gene therapy method, shared the authors. Moreover, the "microneedle patch that supports stem cells' viability, responsiveness to wound stimuli, and ability to accelerate wound healing."

Wujin Sun explained that the biodegradable microneedle patch containing nanoparticles is an effective, "minimally-invasive vehicle for local therapeutic gene delivery." The platform can be applied for the development of vaccinations, protein supplements, and gene editing for those with defects.

The gene delivery system can also be customized according to the required therapeutic genes. Better treatment can be developed to treat various illnesses including skin cancer, breast cancer, psoriasis, and muscle diseases. Furthermore, the microneedle patch can deliver vaccines such as influenza, hepatitis, and coronavirus.

Khademhosseini said that local therapeutic gene delivery using microneedles and nanoparticles "opens the possibilities for a variety of clinical applications and synergizes with a number of platforms at the Terasaki Institute, which aims to leverage our ability to find personalized solutions for patients."

Read Also: Using RNA as a Delivery Vehicle Is the Magic Bullet to Cure Gene Mutation


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