Discoveries Magazine


Putting Viruses to Work for a Good Cause

Putting Viruses to Work for a Good Cause

Illustration: Neil Webb

After enduring eons of suffering inflicted by viruses, humans are now employing these infective agents to do good work. That’s the mission of the new Viral Vector Core at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Regenerative Medicine Institute.

Directed by Vaithi Arumugaswami, PhD, the facility uses viruses as couriers, or vectors, to ferry experimental genes into living cells for research and development of potential therapies. This process takes advantage of viruses’ ability to invade cells and turn them into factories that produce more viruses. Launched in October 2011, the Viral Vector Core is already poised for expansion.

“The demand is high,” says Dr. Arumugaswami, who works with more than a dozen principal investigators at the Medical Center. Among the disorders they are studying are amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease), Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, eye diseases, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and hepatitis C.

Scientists create viral vectors by stripping a virus’ own genes and replacing them with experimental genes. This “package” is then inserted into a cell, which generates more viruses carrying the new genes. These altered viruses are collected, purified, and concentrated into precise doses.

Researchers use these viruses to study how genes may induce tumors or suppress them, help cells fight off infections, or effect other changes. They may also engineer genes to use in developing new treatments.

The Viral Vector Core can provide “ready-to-use” vectors with a range of capabilities, including fluorescent markers, or custom-engineer them to an investigator’s specifications. Dr. Arumugaswami will also consult with researchers to help them determine the best viruses to use in their studies.

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