The finding could improve gene therapy, which has the potential to cure diseases by replacing diseased cells with healthy ones. Gene therapy is being tested in clinical trials, but the biggest challenge is how best to deliver the genes.
Methods include cells with a virus being injected into the body, and liposomes -- fatty compounds -- carrying the genes. However, these methods may present some problems.
When a virus is used, the body's immune system can attack the virus or cause a tumor. Lipid-based systems may cause inflammation and may not properly bind to cells.
The peptides created by Kansas State University researchers have advantages over their lipid counterparts. The peptides have improved stability and durability, are easier and quicker to create, and they could be delivered to a specific area in the body.
The peptides can be designed to have the ability to target cells, tissues, tumors or organs, and to encapsulate chemical reagents, antibodies, toxins and inhibitors, Tomich said.
"We don't even begin to know all of the potential applications for this discovery," he said. "We envision that many products could be packaged and delivered using these peptides."
Partial funding for the study came from the Kansas State University Johnson Cancer Research Center, National Institutes of Health and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.
Kansas State University collaborators include Sushanth Gudlur, May 2012 doctoral graduate in biochemistry, who first published the results in a dissertation; Pinakin Sukthankar, doctoral student in biochemistry; Jian Gao, former postdoctoral fellow in the department of biochemistry; Luz Adriana Avila Flores, graduate research assistant in the department of biochemistry; Yasuaki Hiromasa, research assistant professor of biochemistry; and Jianhan Chen, assistant professor of biochemistry. Takeo Iwamoto from the Jikei University School of Medicine in Japan also was a collaborator.