Nanodiamond compounds for gene therapy. Credit Northwestern Univ. N-BASE lab and Dean Ho.

Nanodiamond solutions for gene therapy. Credit Northwestern Univ. N-BASE lab and Dean Ho.

A team of Northwestern University researchers has figured out a way to use nanodiamonds to deliver DNA for gene-therapy application. By modifying the surface of nanodiamond particles with a special polymer, a group led by Dean Ho found they could reach a delivery efficiency that is 70 times greater than that of a conventional standard for gene delivery.

In a news release from NU, it’s clear that Ho is excited by these developments. “Finding a more efficient and biocompatible method for gene delivery than is currently available is a major challenge in medicine. By harnessing the innate advantages of nanodiamonds we now have demonstrated their promise for gene therapy,” says Ho.

“A low molecular weight polymer called polyethyleneimine-800 (PEI800) currently is a commercial approach for DNA delivery,” says Xue-Qing Zhang, a postdoctoral researcher in Ho’s group. “It has good biocompatibility but unfortunately is not very efficient at delivery. Forms of high molecular weight PEI have desirable high DNA delivery efficiencies, but they are very toxic to cells.”

As I reported on in May, Ho and others had already shown that nanodiamonds could deliver chemotherapeutic compounds and proteins, including ones that had water-solubility problems. They have also had particular success with using nanodiamonds to deliver insulin.

This time, they wanted to tap the biocompatibility and DNA delivering ability of the PEI800. Thus, they experimented with functionalizing the nanodiamond surface with PEI800.

The polymer-nanodiamond combination produced a 70 times enhancement in delivery efficiency over PEI800 alone. They then successfully tested this novel delivery system on a line of human cervical cancer cells.

“There’s a long road ahead before the technology is ready for clinical use,” Ho says, “but we are very pleased with the exciting properties and potential of the nanodiamond platform.”

There is a detailed report on this research at ACS Nano.