From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published January 31, 2011 09:54 AM

Caffeinated Gene Therapy

Many people in society simply cannot function without a daily dose of caffeine. It is so prevalent in many diets. From coffee, to tea, to soft drinks, it has become a staple on par with corn or wheat, or even water. Of course caffeine is not necessary to survive, but it is sure good at keeping our eyes open. However, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Texas, caffeine does more than just keep us awake. It also energizes cells into producing more viruses used for gene therapy.


Caffeine is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive substances, and amazingly, is completely legal and unregulated. It is found naturally in many plant species such as coffee, tea, and cocoa beans. Plants generate it because it paralyzes and kills certain insects which feed upon them. Therefore, it is the only stimulate we consume that is also a pesticide.

However, the amazing new property discovered by researchers can have lasting impacts on gene therapy research. Gene therapy is the manipulation of genes within the body's tissue cells with the goal of treating disease. It can correct defective genes which are responsible for disease development.

The problem is how to manipulate the genes. For a long time, scientists have known that viruses reproduce by binding to their hosts and introducing their unique genetic material into the cell. This genetic material gives instructions to the cell to produce copies of itself, hijacking the cell’s natural production. For gene therapists, viruses can be used to manipulate cells with "good" genetic material. This is known as the viral vector.

The new study recently published in the journal Human Gene Therapy claims that caffeinated cells used to produce viruses for gene therapy can generate up to 8 times more than non-caffeinated cells. According to the researchers, using caffeine should decrease the cost of producing lentiviruses for research and clinical uses. Lentiviruses are a common type of virus used in gene therapy.

"It is ironic that the ingredient in beverages like colas and coffees that helps keep us awake and alert is also useful in jazzing up cells to produce more gene therapy vectors. An increase in vector production of 5-fold may prove critical in establishing the commercial viability of lentiviral based products," says James M. Wilson, MD, PhD, and Director of the Gene Therapy Program.

The researchers emphasize that the timing of introducing caffeine into cells is critical for increased virus production. Also the concentration of caffeine cannot be too high because it can be toxic to the cells, and would not cause them to increase virus production.

Researchers involved with the study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas include Brian Ellis, Patrick Ryan Potts, and Matthew Porteus. Their work can be found in the journal Human Gene Therapy which is published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

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