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1.  Exquisite allele discrimination by toehold hairpin primers 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(15):e120.
The ability to detect and monitor single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in biological samples is an enabling research and clinical tool. We have developed a surprising, inexpensive primer design method that provides exquisite discrimination between SNPs. The field of DNA computation is largely reliant on using so-called toeholds to initiate strand displacement reactions, leading to the execution of kinetically trapped circuits. We have now similarly found that the short toehold sequence to a target of interest can initiate both strand displacement within the hairpin and extension of the primer by a polymerase, both of which will further stabilize the primer:template complex. However, if the short toehold does not bind, neither of these events can readily occur and thus amplification should not occur. Toehold hairpin primers were used to detect drug resistance alleles in two genes, rpoB and katG, in the Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome, and ten alleles in the Escherichia coli genome. During real-time PCR, the primers discriminate between mismatched templates with Cq delays that are frequently so large that the presence or absence of mismatches is essentially a ‘yes/no’ answer.
PMCID: PMC4150758  PMID: 24990378
2.  Evolutionarily Repurposed Networks Reveal the Well-Known Antifungal Drug Thiabendazole to Be a Novel Vascular Disrupting Agent 
PLoS Biology  2012;10(8):e1001379.
Analysis of a genetic module repurposed between yeast and vertebrates reveals that a common antifungal medication is also a potent vascular disrupting agent.
Studies in diverse organisms have revealed a surprising depth to the evolutionary conservation of genetic modules. For example, a systematic analysis of such conserved modules has recently shown that genes in yeast that maintain cell walls have been repurposed in vertebrates to regulate vein and artery growth. We reasoned that by analyzing this particular module, we might identify small molecules targeting the yeast pathway that also act as angiogenesis inhibitors suitable for chemotherapy. This insight led to the finding that thiabendazole, an orally available antifungal drug in clinical use for 40 years, also potently inhibits angiogenesis in animal models and in human cells. Moreover, in vivo time-lapse imaging revealed that thiabendazole reversibly disassembles newly established blood vessels, marking it as vascular disrupting agent (VDA) and thus as a potential complementary therapeutic for use in combination with current anti-angiogenic therapies. Importantly, we also show that thiabendazole slows tumor growth and decreases vascular density in preclinical fibrosarcoma xenografts. Thus, an exploration of the evolutionary repurposing of gene networks has led directly to the identification of a potential new therapeutic application for an inexpensive drug that is already approved for clinical use in humans.
Author Summary
Yeast cells and vertebrate blood vessels would not seem to have much in common. However, we have discovered that during the course of evolution, a group of proteins whose function in yeast is to maintain cell walls has found an alternative use in vertebrates regulating angiogenesis. This remarkable repurposing of the proteins during evolution led us to hypothesize that, despite the different functions of the proteins in humans compared to yeast, drugs that modulated the yeast pathway might also modulate angiogenesis in humans and in animal models. One compound seemed a particularly promising candidate for this sort of approach: thiabendazole (TBZ), which has been in clinical use as a systemic antifungal and deworming treatment for 40 years. Gratifyingly, our study shows that TBZ is indeed able to act as a vascular disrupting agent and an angiogenesis inhibitor. Notably, TBZ also slowed tumor growth and decreased vascular density in human tumors grafted into mice. TBZ’s historical safety data and low cost make it an outstanding candidate for translation to clinical use as a complement to current anti-angiogenic strategies for the treatment of cancer. Our work demonstrates how model organisms from distant branches of the evolutionary tree can be exploited to arrive at a promising new drug.
PMCID: PMC3423972  PMID: 22927795
3.  A General RNA Motif for Cellular Transfection 
Molecular Therapy  2012;20(3):616-624.
We have developed a selection scheme to generate nucleic acid sequences that recognize and directly internalize into mammalian cells without the aid of conventional delivery methods. To demonstrate the generality of the technology, two independent selections with different starting pools were performed against distinct target cells. Each selection yielded a single highly functional sequence, both of which folded into a common core structure. This internalization signal can be adapted for use as a general purpose reagent for transfection into a wide variety of cell types including primary cells.
PMCID: PMC3294222  PMID: 22233578
4.  Inhibition of Cell Proliferation by an Anti-EGFR Aptamer 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20299.
Aptamers continue to receive interest as potential therapeutic agents for the treatment of diseases, including cancer. In order to determine whether aptamers might eventually prove to be as useful as other clinical biopolymers, such as antibodies, we selected aptamers against an important clinical target, human epidermal growth factor receptor (hEGFR). The initial selection yielded only a single clone that could bind to hEGFR, but further mutation and optimization yielded a family of tight-binding aptamers. One of the selected aptamers, E07, bound tightly to the wild-type receptor (Kd = 2.4 nM). This aptamer can compete with EGF for binding, binds to a novel epitope on EGFR, and also binds a deletion mutant, EGFRvIII, that is commonly found in breast and lung cancers, and especially in grade IV glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer which has for the most part proved unresponsive to current therapies. The aptamer binds to cells expressing EGFR, blocks receptor autophosphorylation, and prevents proliferation of tumor cells in three-dimensional matrices. In short, the aptamer is a promising candidate for further development as an anti-tumor therapeutic. In addition, Aptamer E07 is readily internalized into EGFR-expressing cells, raising the possibility that it might be used to escort other anti-tumor or contrast agents.
PMCID: PMC3110755  PMID: 21687663

Results 1-4 (4)