Scientists at Dublin City University have found that certain types of opiates, widely known for their pain-killing properties, can bind to nucleic acids (such as DNA) and significantly alter their structure.
The finding has significant implications for the development of gene therapy to assist in the fight against diseases.
The study is the first of its kind to show that opiates can bind to DNA (a nucleic acid) and was recently published in the leading Oxford Academic journal Nucleic Acids Research.
The work is led by Dr Andrew Kellett, a lecturer in medical inorganic chemistry at the School of Chemistry and of the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology (NICB) and his research group including PhD student Natasha McStay and Dr Zara Molphy, a postdoctoral research fellow in the group.
The research discovered that specific morphine-based molecules, synthesised in this study, could bind to the surface of DNA.
The binding effects caused the double helix of DNA to collapse—or become condensed—and prepares it for a process known as transfection, a mechanism of delivering foreign genes into host cells.
Transfection is a vital step whereby DNA (and other nucleic acids) can be safely transported through cell membranes for therapeutic and bioprocessing applications.
The discovery may have significant implications in broadening the therapeutic potential of opiates, such as morphine, and researchers within Dr Kellett’s group are now focusing on applying this technology to biopharmaceutical drug development.