Virginia iGEM 2013

Minicells: Synthesizing a Better Drug Delivery Vector

Every freely administered drug causes side effects. Cancer is a classic example. Because of off-target toxicity, many cancer patients have to hope that their chemotherapy kills their cancer before it kills them.

Many drug delivery nano-vectors have been developed to address this issue. However, most have severely limiting disadvantages. For example, liposomes, the vector projected to have the largest market share in the next ten years, are often expensive to produce and leaky in functionality.

Bacteria have several properties that would make them an interesting alternative drug delivery vectors: their surface membranes can be modified for targeting, they are biological and can accommodate Biobricks, and they are easily grown and manufactured, unlike many other drug delivery vectors.

Unfortunately, as in the case of many potential synthetic biology applications, the utility of bacteria as vectors is limited by safety concerns. Our initial investigation on this problem led us to a forgotten discovery from the 1950’s—the bacterial minicell.

Minicells are small, achromosomal products of aberrant cell division. Because they lack chromosomes , they cannot replicate, mutate, or express virulent bacteria genes. However, they still express transfected plasmids, which means that minicells remain fully compatible with standardized biobrick parts. While largely neglected for decades, minicells are only now resurfacing, in the wake of the recent, explosive growth of the modern biotechnology industry. This past summer, we engineered the bacterial minicell into a safe, alternative chassis for drug delivery applications.

See Virginia 2013's project wiki for more details.

Team Members

Back row: Jonathan Bethke (Biology 2014), Christopher Langguth (Biology 2014), Joshua Leehan (Biology 2015), Sean Moshasha (M.S. in Commerce 2014), Dr. Keith Kozminski (Project Advisor) Middle row: Bethany Bruno (Biology 2016), Jessica Yoo (Biology 2016), Elizabeth Kelly (Biology 2016), Surbhi Gupta (Biology 2014), Elyse McMillen (ChE 2016) Front row: Christopher Cai (BME 2016), Richard Lee (MAE 2016), Greg Brown (BME 2016), Matthew Tucker (ChE 2015)

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Banner photo courtesy of wfxue at Kent iGEM