In gene therapy, viral vectors are the most common method used to deliver DNA into cells. Some attempts have been made to develop non-viral vectors (i.e. polyethylenimine (PEI)), but the gene transfer efficiency has not been as effective as viral vectors. Recently, a research team at the University of Bayreuth has succeeded in using innovative polymers to introduce genes into cells efficiently. These large, non-viral star-shaped molecules have even been shown to infiltrate living cells traditionally only accessible with viral vectors. In addition, this technology has demonstrated efficacy on par with viral vectors. Best of all, these new polymers have been proven to be safe.
Viruses and non-viral vectors such as PEI and the new polymers are used to transport DNA molecules into cells. Unfortunately, using viruses as the delivery method for gene therapy treatment could result in the virus becoming infectious or the virus triggering an unwanted immune response. Therefore, using a non-viral vector would result in a safer gene therapy treatment and open up new possibilities for biomedicine and the development of new gene therapy processes.
The new polymers have also showed promise in treatments that are based on RNA interference, a technology used to shut down individual genes. This is an extremely important finding because until now there was not any efficient transfection vector available for this purpose, as viruses and other natural vectors are unsuitable for use with RNAi.
Currently the Bayerische Patentallianz GmbH has assessed the value of the polymers and has filed a patent application for the invention on the behalf of the University.