Encryption of Adeno-Associated Virus for Protease-Controlled Gene Therapy
Doctor of Philosophy
Gene therapy holds the unprecedented potential to treat disease by manipulating the underlying genetic blueprints of phenotypic behavior. Targeting of gene delivery is essential to achieve specificity for the intended tissue, which is especially critical in cancer gene therapy to avoid destruction of healthy tissue. Adeno-associated virus (AAV) is considered the safest viral vector and, compared to non-viral vectors, offers several advantages: higher efficiency, genetic modification, combinatorial panning, and high monodispersity. Classic viral targeting has focused on engineering ligand-receptor interactions, but many cell surface targets do not support post-binding transduction events. Furthermore, many potential target tissues – such as triple negative breast cancer – may not display a single, unique identifying surface receptor, so new methods of targeting are needed. Alternatively, many pathological states, including most cancers, exhibit upregulation of proteolytic enzymes in the extracellular milieu. The present work describes the development of an AAV platform that has been engineered to activate in response to disease-related proteases. The specificity and sensitivity of these protease-activatable viruses (PAVs) can be tuned to meet the demands of various clinical scenarios, giving the platform some therapeutic versatility. This work represents the first demonstration of a protease-controlled, non-enveloped virus for genetic therapy. These results extend the therapeutic value of AAV, the safest gene vector currently being explored in 73 clinical trials worldwide.