22 March 2008

Answers in Genetics

Years ago, in a dangerously nerdy moment of confabulation among friends, I speculated that surgeons of the future would no longer be the formidable scalpel jocks they are today. Surgery of the future might be regarded more as a highly technical skilled labor than a rarefied echelon of medical science because disease treatment would move increasingly toward fixes at the molecular/genetic level. The surgery of the future is molecular surgery.

A good example of this is Klug & Co.'s recent experiments in which they made a synthetic version of a type of natural enzyme called a "zinc finger nuclease" (ZFN). Zinc-finger proteins are a class of proteins and there are many of them. Part of the structure sticks out like a finger (or so somebody thought) and it has a zinc ion, hence the name. So now you know what your body needs zinc for (and it needs other trace elements, like aluminum, cobalt, iron-- even arsenic and molybdenum-- for similar purposes).

A nuclease is a protein that binds to DNA (in a specific spot) and cuts out a piece. These researchers had the idea to make a synthetic nuclease that also targeted a specific DNA sequence, in this case an actual gene. If they could do this, it would demonstrate that their technique could be used as a model for gene therapy.

The new method is currently being tested for its efficacy in treating diabetes complications, spinal injury, chronic pain, AIDS, and vascular obstructions.

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