New VEGAS Method Could Potentially Cure Serious Diseases
Market Expertz | July 11, 2019
Scientists from the UNC School of Medicine have created a promising new “directed evolution” method, termed “VEGAS” for Viral Evolution of Genetically Actuating Sequences, for rapid development of scientific tools and new treatments for several diseases. The scientists have demonstrated the technique that entails evolving several proteins to undertake new tasks, each time performing it in a matter of days. Existing methods of directed evolution are time-consuming and complicated and are usually suitable for application in bacterial cells, which restricts the effectiveness of the technology for the evolution of proteins in mammalian cells.
Directed evolution is a synthesized, accelerated version of the evolution process in nature. It involves taking the evolutionary process on a single DNA sequence to make it perform a particular task. Senior author Bryan L. Roth, MD, PhD, Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor, Department of Pharmacology at the UNC School of Medicine, says that the scientific community has needed a tool of this kind for years, and their technique will accelerate research and ultimately make way for better therapeutics for people suffering from diseases that are in dire need of better treatments. Researchers have been working on the concept of directed evolution for centuries for selecting and breeding variants of animals and plants that have the desired properties like crop varieties engineered to grow larger fruits. The new method is comparatively quicker, easier, and more versatile. It employs the Sindbis virus as the carrier of the gene to be modified. The virus with the genetic cargo can end up infecting cells in a culture dish and mutate rapidly.
The researchers altered the experiment so that the mutant genes that survive are the encoding proteins capable of performing the desired function within the cells such as activating a particular receptor or switching on selected genes. The system works in mammalian cells, which allows it to be used to evolve new human, mouse, or other mammalian proteins that are challenging to generate with the traditional bacterial cell-based approach. The team is using VEGAS to develop gene-editing tools, to cure genetic diseases and to engineer nanobodies that can neutralize carcinogenic genes.