Serwer lab hopes to turn viral clue into drug-delivery potential

SAN ANTONIO (June 3, 2013) — Philip Serwer, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry in the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, and Elena Wright, research laboratory technician-senior on Dr. Serwer’s staff, contributed to a paper published May 20 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They provided samples for a procedure called cryo-electron microscopy. With these samples, scientists at Purdue University were able to visualize layered rings of a virus called the T7 bacteriophage. The rings are like numbers on a combination lock; they can rotate relative to one another in many combinations. Thus, not all particles were the same and the study was the first to manage this situation.

Bacteriophages are dolphins of the world of microbes. They are known as friendly viruses. Dr. Serwer’s lab is studying the entry of DNA into the cavity of a protein shell of the T7 bacteriophage. In some conditions, molecules other than DNA can be artificially loaded and tightly sealed. Thus, the shell can possibly be a drug-delivery vehicle. The Purdue-Health Science Center project revealed the structure of the gateway into the shell’s cavity.

“We can control what goes through this gateway and can potentially use the T7 bacteriophage as a transport vehicle for numerous molecules, including anti-cancer drugs,” Dr. Serwer said.

“We have to genetically alter the shell to selectively target cancer cells,” he said.

Wen Jiang, Ph.D., headed the collaborating laboratory at Purdue.


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