Cells can be ‘hotwired’ to take up drugs or nanoparticles by endocytosis on demand according to research carried out in the UK.

Researchers at Warwick Medical School have found a way to trigger endocytosis in cells. The research, which is published in The Journal of Cell Biology, uses the cell’s own proteins to initiate the endocytosis and blue light to determine when and where the process takes place. Eventually, the group hopes to use the technique to ‘force feed’ cells with drugs, nanopartciles or whatever else they may want.

Endocytosis helps cells to perform many important functions, including nutrient uptake, movement, communication and growth. Scientists have been trying to control it for decades, and the group from Warwick has finally found a way. Their technique uses a modified form of the clathrin protein, which stimulates the formation of clathrin-coated vesicles when it binds to an anchor protein on the plasma membrane of the cell.

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A clathrin monomer, which polymerizes to form larger networks that are involved in the formation of vesicles.

The team developed their technology one step further by focusing blue light on a particular region of the cell to control when and where a vesicle forms.

The researchers have likened their technique to hotwiring a car as it is similar to just twisting the wires together rather than having a key”. The process is fast too, as Dr Stephen Royle, Senior Cancer Research UK Fellow at Warwick Medical School joked: “It turns out that movies are not like real life, and hot-wiring a car is actually quite difficult and takes a while. So our systems are more like the Hollywood version than real life!

endocytosis

Endocytosis is the process by which cells engulf substances in their surroundings. Researchers hope to manipulate this for therapeutic purposes.

Improving how we deliver drugs to their targets is a big focus area in biotech. Another company manipulating endocytosis is PCI Biotech, which uses a photosensitizing compound to disrupt the membrane of vesicles, and release a drug into the cell. Erytech takes an alternative approach, by modifying red blood cells to deliver therapeutics, such as L-asparaginase to deplete asparagine, which is an essential amino acid for tumor survival.

For a very long time, researchers have been trying to find a way to control endocytosis and access its huge potential to efficiently deliver therapeutics into cells. This research has not only provided us with that, but also a way to control it, and it will be interesting to see how it is adapted and to which diseases it can be applied.


Images via Andrey_Popov, ellepigrafica, Designua / shutterstock.com

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