Viruses come in many flavors, and Rice University bioengineer Isaac Hilton has long been fascinated by the kind that take control of cells without rewriting their genetic code.
“Some non-integrating episomal DNA viruses have evolved sophisticated ways to hide inside human immune cells without altering our DNA,” said Hilton, a geneticist, synthetic biologist and cellular engineer. “These types of viruses can exist as circular minichromosomes that we call episomes, and some of these viral episomes can silently persist in human immune cells for a person’s entire life.”
In addition to helping viruses hide from the immune system, those circles can produce molecules that viruses use to hijack host cells and alter their behavior. But as their name implies, non-integrating episomal DNA viruses accomplish their takeover without making permanent changes to their host’s genome. From an engineer’s perspective, Hilton said the ability to program immune cell behaviors and safely erase that programming when it is no longer useful or necessary “makes these viruses very attractive for use in gene– and cell-therapy platforms.”Continue reading… “Trailblazing Rice bioengineer is turning cells into disease fighters”