Opponent: Professor Jens Kurreck, Technische Universität Berlin, Institute of Biotechnology, TIB 4/3-2, Department of Applied Biochemistry, D-13355 Berlin, Germany

Abstract

Genetic mutations can cause a wide range of diseases, e.g. cancer. Using gene therapy we can alleviate or possibly even cure these diseases. One of the many gene therapies developed so far is RNA-cleaving deoxyribozymes, short DNA oligonucleotides that specifically bind to and cleave RNA. Since the development of these synthetic catalytic oligonucleotides, the main way of determining their cleavage kinetics has been through the use of a laborious and error prone gel assay to quantify substrate and product at different time-points. We have developed two new methods for this. The first one includes a fluorescent intercalating dye, PicoGreen, which has an increased fluorescence upon binding double-stranded oligonucleotides; during the course of the reaction the fluorescence intensity will decrease as the RNA is cleaved and dissociates from the deoxyribozyme. A second method was developed based on the common denominator of all nucleases, each cleavage event exposes a single phosphate of the oligonucleotide phosphate backbone; the exposed phosphate can simultaneously be released by a phosphatase and directly quantified by a fluorescent phosphate sensor. This method allows for multiple turnover kinetics of diverse types of nucleases, including deoxyribozymes and protein nucleases.

The main difficulty of gene therapy is often the delivery into the cell. To bypass cellular defenses researchers have used a vast number of methods; one of these are cell-penetrating peptides which can be either covalently coupled to or non-covalently complexed with a cargo to deliver it into a cell. To further evolve cell-penetrating peptides and understand how they work we developed an assay to be able to quickly screen different conditions at high-throughput. A luciferase up- and downregulation experiment was used together with reducing the experimental time by 1 day, upscaling from 24- to 96-well plates and the cost was reduced by 95% from previous assays we have used. In the last paper we evaluated if cell-penetrating peptides could be used to improve the uptake of an LNA oligonucleotide mimic of GRN163L, a telomerase-inhibiting oligonucleotide. The combination of cell-penetrating peptides and our mimic oligonucleotide lead to an IC50 more than 20 times lower than that of GRN163L.