Slovenian researches develop new cell regulation technology

Ljubljana, 28 September - A team of Slovenian researchers from the National Institute of Chemistry in Ljubljana has developed a new technology for chemical regulation of biological processes based on human proteins. The new technology, termed INSPIRE, represents a new tool in biotechnology and biomedicine that could prove critical in cell and gene therapies.

The results of the research, led by Roman Jerala from the country's leading chemistry institute, were published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, the institute said.

INSPIRE (inducible split protein regulators) technology is based on human proteins that are able to bind small molecules, including hormones.

According to the institute, the new technology represents an important new tool to regulate cell and gene therapies.

The researchers have proved it can detect rising levels of cortisol and the deactivate the hormone through a feedback loop.

This system plays a key role in conceiving new gene and cell therapies because it enables the regulation of therapeutic cells via small molecules, either the body's own or those introduced into the body.

It allows a physician to monitor and interrupt any overreaction or autonomous response of the therapeutic cells to the situation in the body.

Until now, researchers mainly used bacterial or plant proteins to regulate drugs in cells, but his can trigger an unwanted immune response.

The researchers at the Chemistry Institute meanwhile came up with a new solution to this challenge using synthetic biology and exclusively human proteins.

The selected human proteins were split in two parts in a way that they can re-join only in the presence of small molecules.

University of Maribor researchers helped with the splitting of proteins and the development of a computer tool which researchers can use to design other such systems.

Jerala said the new technology is an important piece in the mosaic of technologies they want to apply to the treatment of patients.

It will also form one of the cornerstones of the technologies researched at a new centre the institute plans to set up - a Centre for Gene and Cell Therapy Technology.

The bulk of the research was carried out by Erik Rihtar, a PhD candidate at the institute, and Tina Lebar from Harvard University.