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March 1, 2015 | by  | in Science |
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Radio-controlled gene therapy

At New York’s Rockefeller University, geneticists are researching new therapies for chronic diseases. By adding modified gene cells into an organism, it is possible to stimulate bodily processes, such as insulin production. These processes are now able to be switched on, or off, by radio signal.

Three genetic variations of existing cells were added to a mouse’s liver and were controlled by researchers. The key element was a protein containing a high concentration of iron, called ferritin. At the correct frequency, the iron absorbed energy from the signal, which raised its temperature. Another cell with a heat-responsive gene activated and flooded neighbouring cells with calcium. Thus the gene created to respond to high levels of calcium and produce insulin was triggered. However, the production of insulin in this manner is incredibly inefficient, which the lead researcher, Jeffrey Friedman, acknowledges. “There are many good treatments for diabetes that are much simpler,” he said.

The treatment is currently a proof of concept but research is being carried out to see if the control of dopamine can treat Parkinson’s patients. Growing tumours into which the cells are injected is currently part of the procedure, which renders it ethically non-viable for human applications.

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