Gene and cell therapy, cancer immunotherapy and gene editing are significant steps toward personalized cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and so on. As such these methods rely heavily on programming cells using an engineered virus or dangerous electric field to deliver a portion of nucleic acid of interest. Viruses can be very toxic as they can deliver unwanted material (e.g. portions of the viral genome) inside the cell that can result in undesirable immune response inside patients. Over the last two decades, viral vectors have caused several deaths and leukaemia in patients during clinical trials. Albeit viral designs and manufacturing have become sophisticated with time, yet efficiency, toxicity, time and cost remain a mega challenge. Recent gene therapy drugs cost a fortune, between $0.6 Million to $1.2 Million, the major cost contributor being viral manufacturing and gene delivery into the cells. Another way for cell programming is to apply thousands of electric volts to rip open the cell membrane which not only can cause cell death but can damage sensitive material such as quantum dots with no control on the delivery process itself.
The classic, cleanest and purest form of delivering molecules into cells is mechanical micro-injection using glass pipettes. Since it involves humans manually programming individual cells, it is very targeted and non-toxic. Nonetheless, this is time and resource intensive with only about 100 cells per person hour being programmed, and therefore cannot be applied at a meaningful scale critical for therapies.
THE KAREL PROMISE
Mekonos is developing a radically new approach of cell engineering by creating a patent pending silicon-based nano-robotic system, called KAREL, to deliver any biomaterial or molecule into a massive array of single cells in a highly targeted manner for genetic engineering and treatment of diseases such as cancer. This will be a leap toward the true promise of cell therapy for curing diseases at a personalised level. For example, we envision drug companies using KAREL for cancer immunotherapy to introduce new genes into white blood cells called T-cells after filtering them from a patient’s blood. These genes programs the T-cells to make a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), which enables them to recognise a specific protein that is present in cancer cells. The CAR T-cells are then grown in the laboratory and infused back into the patient, where they seek out and destroy the cancer. We are scaling this technology to develop a parallel architecture of chips, each consisting of hundreds of individually controlled nano-needles. Read more about the KAREL promise here.
THE KAREL ADVANTAGE
SILICON based nanomachine chips replace viruses and high-voltage electric field.
The ability to accurately track specific cell compartments with nanometer precision for targeted delivery of molecules into individual cells.
Originally inspired by IBM’s millipede memory technology and the development of micro-needles for drug delivery, we are developing KAREL to achieve more than five million single cell programming per hour.
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