Can Viruses Deliver Medicine? UTD Researchers Investigating

The viruses used affect plants and bacteria, but aren't harmful to humans, researchers say.


When you think about viruses, you probably think about being sick, feeling pretty crummy, and cursing their existence.


Dr. Jeremiah Gassensmith, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UTD

Chemistry researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas are looking into using them, however, to precisely deliver therapeutic drugs into your body to actually make you better.

Dr. Jeremiah Gassensmith, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, has received a five-year, $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation to investigate the process.

“The environment and evolution have pressured viruses into being really stable natural nanoparticles, with all the properties needed to deliver cargo to specific cells,” Gassensmith said in a release. “Conceptually, they’re an ideal drug-delivery system, and their persistence is a testament that nanotechnology can work in biological systems. Our idea is to take viruses that are noninfectious and teach them how to deliver drug therapy or gene therapy.”

The work is a continuation of research originally done by two doctoral students in Gassensmith’s lab — Zhuo Chen and Candace Benjamin — and both will play lead roles in the new project, UTD said.

When viruses — simple organisms made up of genetic material wrapped up in a coating of proteins — invade a host, they inject that genetic material into the host’s cells, taking over cell’s machinery and making numerous copies of itself. 


That spread of the virus in the body sickens the host.

But the UTD researchers only use viruses that infect plants or bacteria and have no effect on human beings, according to the release. 

The team, in most cases, don’t use the whole virus either — only the viral capsid, the protein shell that engulfs and holds a virus’s genetic material.

“In our process, no viral genome is left inside the capsid, so they’re harmless,” Gassensmith said.

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