Nicole F. Steinmetz, Department of NanoEngineering and Center for Nano-ImmunoEngineering (nanoIE), University of California-San Diego
Nanoscale engineering is revolutionizing the way we detect, prevent and treat diseases. Viruses are playing a special role in these developments because they can function as prefabricated nanoparticles. We utilize and build-upon the high-precision assemblies of the viral capsids and utilize them as platform technologies, engineered and repurposed for a desired function. More specifically, we turned toward the engineering of plant viruses as a platform nanotechnology. Plant viruses are non-infectious toward mammals. A particular advantage of plant virus-based technologies is their manufacturing and engineerability; genetic programming enables in-planta production of pre-functionalized nanoparticles with a high degree of quality control and assurance. Plant virus-based technologies could be produced ‘in the region for the region’ in developing countries lacking a conventional refrigeration system and health infrastructure, toward low-cost and edible therapeutics. Opportunity exists to incorporate these materials into devices to produce designer therapeutics that do not require a cold chain for storage or distribution. We have developed a library of plant virus-based nanoparticles and through structure-function studies we are beginning to understand how to tailor these materials appropriately for applications targeting human, veterinary and plant health. Through chemical biology, we have developed virus-based delivery systems carrying medically-relevant cargo enabling tissue-specific imaging and treatment. A particular exciting avenue is the development of plant virus-like particle platforms for cancer immunotherapy. The idea pursued is an ‘in situ vaccination’ to stimulate local and systemic anti-tumor immune responses to treat established disease, and most importantly to induce immune memory to protect patients from outgrowth of metastasis and recurrence of the disease. Another avenue is the repurposing of plant viruses to enable plant health; we employ principles of nanomedicine to target pesticides residing deep in the soil therefore challenging to reach using contemporary pesticides.
I will highlight engineering design principles employed to synthesize the next-generation nanotherapeutics using plant virus-based platform technologies, and I will discuss the evaluation of such in preclinical mouse models and canine patients as well as in the agricultural arena.
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