UT research successful in DNA binding, possible uses include HIV treatment

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

Chemists from the University have developed a DNA-targeting molecule that could change the future of treating genetic conditions such as HIV.

The molecule is able to bind to specific DNA sequences by threading itself through the DNA double helix and was reported to have the longest dissociation half-life recorded to date, according to the report. The study outlining the process of developing the molecule was released Sept. 25, 2011. Interest in finding a molecule that targets DNA has been a subject of interest in the scientific community for many years, said Amy Rhoden Smith, chemistry graduate student and contributing author to the study.

“It started quite a few years ago,” Rhoden Smith said. “Basically we’ve made a molecule that can wind itself around the DNA the way a snake might climb a ladder. The thing that made the paper so interesting was once the molecule finds its binding site, it takes an incredibly long time for it to be able to come back out.”

The molecule was reported to have a dissociation half-life of 16 days, she said. Development of a molecule with the capability to target DNA sequences and bind to them for such a long period of time is a significant achievement, Rhoden Smith said.

“With this type of study we showed that we can make a molecule that will sit and stay there tightly in biological time frames that are very significant,” Rhoden Smith said. “A lot can happen in 16 days with cell reproduction, etcetera. This type of therapy can work in the future.”

The long-term goal of the molecule is to find potential cures for genetic disorders, including HIV, she said. The ability to combat these disorders at the DNA level is an important step in finding such a cure, said contributing author Brent Iverson, professor and chair in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“The AIDS genetic information is encoded into the cells of the patient,” Iverson said. “To be able to truly attack that, you have to go after the DNA itself. Long term, you’re trying to create therapies that modulate what happens with DNA. You’re basically attacking the problem at its source.”

The next step is to continue trying to extend the amount of time the molecule is bonded to the DNA, Iverson said.

“Sixteen days isn’t enough,” Iverson said. “The important thing is to be able to interact with the DNA for a long period of time. You don’t want to treat people for an hour. You have to treat them over a long period of time.”

Biochemistry senior Joshua Hays said he believes the development of the molecule will help treat some disorders faster than other vaccines.

“I’ve heard about the research targeting HIV DNA, and how it activates the replication of the virus,” Hays said. “It seems like good research.”

Iverson said although the development of the molecule is a positive accomplishment, there is still much to be done.

“It’s really premature to really talk about its impact,” Iverson said. “It’s one milestone among many. There are a whole lot of things that have to fall into place before this has a significant effect. We’re not even almost there, but we have taken an important step.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Molecule's discovery could lead to HIV cure