Michael Golinkoff (left), one of the founders of Emily's Entourage; Phil Thomas (middle), cystic fibrosis researcher at UT Southwestern, John Lueck (right), assistant professor of Pharmacology and Physiology at URMC.
There are all sorts of "typos" in our DNA that can lead to disease. One kind of typo -- a premature termination codon or PTC -- is responsible for 10 to 15 percent all genetic diseases, including cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. PTCs lead to the production of short and often deleterious proteins.
A recent paper by John Lueck, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pharmacology and Physiology and Neurology, shows how high-throughput screening may be used to fix these typos and lessen disease severity. Published in Nature Communications, the study found that modifying tRNA (a type of RNA molecule that helps convert messenger RNA or mRNA into protein) can help the cell make a full length protein, even with a PTC in the middle of the gene. With this new technology to modify tRNA, the authors were able to use gene therapy to suppress faulty versions of a gene in skeletal muscle, and instead force the cells to produce a full-length protein.
At the moment, most investigational therapies for inherited diseases are focused on small molecules, which to this point have not been successful. "For many of these diseases, including cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, there are no therapies and patients rely on palliative care," explains Lueck. "Our engineered tRNA platform puts another iron in the fire for development therapeutics and we're hopeful that the technology can be translated into a viable treatment for patients in the near future."
While these studies are still in the early stages, Lueck was recently awarded a unique pilot grant from Vertex Pharmaceuticals to continue this work. This work was funded by Emily's Entourage and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and accomplished with the collaboration of researchers at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundations Therapeutics Lab, the Wistar Institute, University of Iowa, and Integrated DNA Technologies, Inc.