Changing bacteria’s genetic code could make certain drugs last longer


AUSTIN (KXAN) — While many drugs used to treat cancer and diseases of the immune system can have a short active life span in the human body, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have found a way to make the drugs more effective by manipulating the genetic code in bacteria. 

The results were published this week in the journal “Nature Biotechnology.” 

Researchers say their new method replaces the amino acid cysteine with another amino acid called selenocysteine, which forms “heartier chemical bonds.” These bonds make the therapeutic proteins more stable. 

“One of the biggest problems in medicine today is that the drugs are very expensive and they often have a lot of side effects for the patients,” says Ross Thyer, a National Institutes of Health fellow at UT Austin.

This new method would allow for the drugs to have the same therapeutic benefit but increased stability and may survive longer in the body, the report states. 

“So that’s our hope from this kind of discovery is that by making proteins more stable that they have a longer half-life and patients have to get therapies less frequently,” says Dr. Debra Patt with Texas Oncology. 

Pratt says many of the patients using certain drugs have been on them for more than a decade. She says smaller, less frequent doses would free these patients up to enjoy more of their lives. 

“The more we can make patients treat cancer as though it’s like a chronic disease, as opposed to something that is rapidly fatal, the better we serve them, and that’s how we continue to make progress,” Pratt says.

The UT researchers already have patents pending for their technology and a partnership with a biotech company to bring it to clinical trials. 

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