Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rabies as a drug-delivery system

Talk about turning a negative into a positive.

Rabies is "one of the few viruses known to be nearly 100% deadly to mankind." What makes the virus so pernicious is its ability to work its way from a cut or other wound anywhere on the body, into the bloodstream, through the blood-brain barrier and into the brain, where it wreaks havoc.

Now, the blood-brain barrier — a layer of tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord — usually does a very good job of keeping out viruses and other harmful particles. In fact, it's so good at its job that it even blocks "good" substances, such as anti-tumor drugs injected into the blood stream to target a brain tumor.

So, a smart groups of researchers hit on the idea of taking the rabies virus's negative — its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier — and turning it into a positive: They found the protein in the out layer of the virus that is responsible for pulling the whole virus through the blood-brain barrier, then figured out a way to attach drugs to the rabies protein. The protein pulls the drug through the blood-brain barrier and into the brain, where, instead of wreaking havoc, the drug does its job of zapping a tumor or whatever else it way designed to do.

Maybe there's a lesson in this for all of us. Is there a negative in your life that could, with a little outside-the-box thinking, be turned into a positive?

Priti Kumar (left), lead author of the paper on using a rabies virus protein to deliver drugs to the brain.

—Mellow Monk

Go to the Mellow Monk tea page
Subscribe to the blog feed (RSS)