Rensselaer Research Review Spring 2008
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Destroying Anthrax Toxin and Other Harmful Proteins
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New Technology Could Enable Innovative Cancer Treatment Techniques and Antibacterial Coatings

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed a new way to seek out specific proteins, including dangerous proteins such as anthrax toxin, and render them harmless using nothing but light. The technique lends itself to the creation of new antibacterial and antimicrobial films to help curb the spread of germs, and also holds promise for new methods of seeking out and killing tumors in the human body.

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Wayne G. Roberge
Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis)
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Scientists have long wrapped proteins around carbon nanotubes, in a process used for various applications in imaging, biosensing, and cellular delivery. But this Rensselaer study is the first to remotely control the activity of these conjugated nanotubes. Details of the project are outlined in the article “Nanotube-Assisted Protein Deactivation” in the December issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

A team of Rensselaer researchers led by Ravi S. Kane (pictured above), professor of chemical and biological engineering, worked for nearly a year to develop a means to remotely deactivate protein-wrapped carbon nanotubes by exposing them to invisible and near-infrared light. The group demonstrated this method by successfully deactivating anthrax toxin and other proteins.

How It Works

“By attaching peptides to carbon nanotubes, we gave them the ability to selectively recognize a protein of interest — in this case anthrax toxin — from a mixture of different proteins,” Kane said. “Then, by exposing the mixture to light, we could selectively deactivate this protein without disturbing the other proteins in the mixture.”

By conjugating carbon nanotubes with different peptides, this process can be easily tailored to work on other harmful proteins, Kane said. Also, employing different wavelengths of light that can pass harmlessly through the human body, the remote control process will also be able to target and deactivate specific proteins or toxins in the human body. Shining light on the conjugated carbon nanotubes creates free radicals, called reactive oxygen species. It was the presence of radicals, Kane said, that deactivated the proteins.

Photo of Ravi S. Kane by RPI/Mark McCarty
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“Destroying Anthrax Toxin and Other Harmful Proteins”
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