The Medina-Kauwe Laboratory, led by Lali Medina-Kauwe, PhD, utilizes the cell binding, membrane penetration and intracellular trafficking functions of pathogen proteins to develop novel cell-targeted nanotherapeutics. Currently, the lab studies the cell entry processes of adenovirus (Ad) capsid proteins to guide the design and engineering of non-viral nanoparticles that mimic the high efficiency cell entry mechanism of the virus while avoiding the safety concerns associated with using whole viruses for therapy. The Medina-Kauwe Laboratory has further enhanced these molecules by converting them into molecular missiles to target specific cancer cells for destruction while sparing non-target cells. These molecular missiles are being assembled to deliver several different types of therapeutic payloads to cancer cells, including:
- Genes - used for the expression of therapeutic proteins.
- Drugs - such as toxic agents to destroy cancer cells.
- Small interfering RNA (siRNA) - to suppress mutant or cancerous genes.
Importantly, the Medina-Kauwe Laboratory studies vector-cell interactions, including intracellular trafficking of viral capsid proteins, to identify the molecular and cellular requirements for, and barriers to, efficient cell penetration and accumulation at intracellular targets. These studies have so far identified multiple alternative cell entry pathways that may be used by the same capsid protein, as well as novel, previously undiscovered routes that may be exploited for therapeutic cell entry. These studies not only characterize particular roles that certain capsid proteins contribute to virus pathology but also enable the design of safer delivery agents derived from minimal components of the viral capsid. The lab is expanding its interest to include studies on cell penetrating molecules from other types of pathogens as well as extending the applicability of their nanotherapeutics to other cell targets.