Dr. Hua Shi speaks about his aptamers as though they were prized poodles competing in the Westminster dog show. He describes the process of SELEX as a nuanced breeding program to generate aptamers with desired traits and binding ability. From the most prized aptamer isolates, he uses PCR to make more copies or “offspring”, and later creates more complex composite aptamers.
Of course, Dr. Shi’s “breeding program” generates far more than poufy tails and crowns. Dr. Shi’s aptamer-derived constructs can act as molecular probes which can affect change in a biological system. They can be drug leads when eliciting a positive change in a diseased state. This method of aptamer creation has wide applicability across diseases. It has promise to bring about new drug leads that differ from many conventional antibody approaches. Since the aptamers bind tightly to a target and are evolutionarily selected for their job, they are more precise and less likely to cause the harmful immune response that antibodies typically provoke. Moreover, the composite aptamers can function as molecular bridges or bypasses, in addition to molecular blockers like traditional drugs.
The techniques Dr. Shi develops are being used in many academic collaborations. Some of his collaborators include Drs. Conklin, Tenenbaum, and Herschkowitz. Dr. Shi’s methods also have considerable commercial applications because of their potential as therapeutics. The potential for this drug discovery method to uncover leads that mitigate side effects in patients with debilitating diseases is of undeniable appeal. This certainly is a Best in Show ribbon to aspire to.
Dec 01, 2014