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What Is RNA Transfection?

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  • Written By: Heather Scoville
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 07 April 2014
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Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a nucleic acid that is used in the process of protein synthesis inside a cell. RNA transfection inserts RNA from one cell into a different cell. This procedure is often used in gene therapy to treat diseases.

RNA transfection relies on a lipid carrier, microinjection or electricity to insert a small piece of RNA into a target cell. The small size does not alert the cell's immune system to the foreign substance. This allows the RNA to integrate and become a part of the cell's natural functioning.

Usually the RNA that is inserted is considered a small interfering RNA (siRNA). The siRNA can block the expression of a native protein by making its own protein to take its place. If the RNA is transfected into a cell that has a mutation and causes disease, it can fix the problem, at least temporarily.

MicroRNA (miRNA) is a small region of RNA that does not code for proteins and can be transfected into a cell. RNA transfection using miRNA is used to help with cell regulation. Most types of cancer are caused by a defect in cell regulation, particularly during cell division. Transfected miRNA could regulate the mutated cells and possibly treat or prevent cancer.

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Longer strands can also be inserted during RNA transfection. There is a possibility of an inflammatory or immune response to this type of therapy. If the target cell does detect the RNA, it will almost surely be rejected, and the gene therapy will not work.

RNA transfection using siRNA or miRNA is safer to use in gene therapy because it does not include the use of viruses. Viruses can also be used as carriers of genetic information that are used to reprogram a mutated cell. Working with viruses is dangerous for not only the recipient of the gene therapy but the researchers and doctors as well. RNA transfection techniques do not require any sort of hazardous carrier and can be used as frequently as necessary.

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