Artificial Organelles to Break Down Free Radicals

One future path for medical technology is to augment the internal functions of our cells with artificial versions of natural organelles, membrane-enclosed sacks of protein machinery that do some form of useful work - such as produce therapeutic proteins, or remove harmful waste products that natural organelles struggle with.

The research noted below is one of a number of early experiments along these lines, but it isn't clear that it would be very beneficial as built. Neutralizing free radicals via the introduction of additional antioxidants is not generally beneficial: while they are damaging to protein machinery both inside and outside cells, they are also a part of numerous signaling systems, such as those relating to cellular maintenance and repair processes, or the benefits produced by exercise. Removing free radicals is only demonstrated to extend life and improve health over the long term when localized to the mitochondria of the cell, where it might not be practical to insert an entire new organelle.

[Researchers] have successfully developed artificial organelles that are able to support the reduction of toxic oxygen compounds. This opens up new ways in the development of novel drugs that can influence pathological states directly inside the cell. Free oxygen radicals are produced either as metabolic byproduct, or through environmental influences such as UV-rays and smog. Is the concentration of free radicals inside the organism elevated to the point where the antioxidant defense mechanism is overwhelmed, the result can be oxidative stress, which is associated with numerous diseases such as cancer or arthritis.

The aggressive molecules are normally controlled by endogenous antioxidants. Within this process, organelles located inside the cell, so-called peroxisomes, play an important part, since they assist in regulating the concentration of free oxygen radicals. [The] researchers developed a cell organelle based on polymeric nanocapsules, in which two types of enzymes are encapsulated. These enzymes are able to transform free oxygen radicals into water and oxygen. In order to verify the functionality inside the cell, channel proteins were added to the artificial peroxisome's membrane, to serve as gates for substrates and products. The results show that the artificial peroxisomes are incorporated into the cell, where they then very efficiently support the natural peroxisomes in the detoxification process.


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