MIPS researcher receives NHMRC Ideas grant for next generation RNA delivery systems

Illustration of the quantitative endosomal escape assay in action, provided by Professor Angus Johnston.

18 November 2021

A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Angus Johnston has received over $800,000 from the National Health and Medical Research Council to design new delivery systems for RNA.

As the recent development of vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 illustrates, RNA based therapies have tremendous promise for treating a range of diseases. However, efficiently delivering RNA is still a major challenge that has limited their clinical application.

This project will draw upon the researchers’ expertise in intracellular trafficking and advanced nanoparticle engineering to develop the next generation of targeted RNA delivery systems with improved therapeutic activity.

The project is a collaboration between researchers at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), including Professor Colin Pouton and Associate Professor Erica Sloan, and researchers at the University of Melbourne, including Dr Georgina Such and Associate Professor Justine Mintern.

The grant will enable Associate Professor Johnston and his team to build upon work that resulted in a recent publication for in high-impact journal Nature Communications.

That study, titled Unravelling cytosolic delivery of cell penetrating peptides with a quantitative endosomal escape assay, addressed a significant limitation with RNA therapies: inefficient delivery. A major issue with these therapies is that they are eaten up by cells and destroyed in acidic compartments (called lysosomes) before they can have a therapeutic effect.

Two PhD candidates under Associate Professor Johnston’s supervision, Serena Teo and Joshua Rennick, have developed a new way to measure how much therapeutic is delivered to the site of action inside the cell.

Using this ultra-sensitive assay, they have shed new light on how scientists can improve the delivery of these biological therapeutics to the right place inside the cell.