Stable RNA nanoparticles as potential new generation drugs for cancer therapy

Yi Shu, Fengmei Pi, Ashwani Sharma, Mehdi Rajabi, Farzin Haque, Dan Shu, Markos Leggas, B. Mark Evers, Peixuan Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

202 Scopus citations


Human genome sequencing revealed that only ~. 1.5% of the DNA sequence coded for proteins. More and more evidence has uncovered that a substantial part of the 98.5% so-called "junk" DNAs actually code for noncoding RNAs. Two milestones, chemical drugs and protein drugs, have already appeared in the history of drug development, and it is expected that the third milestone in drug development will be RNA drugs or drugs that target RNA. This review focuses on the development of RNA therapeutics for potential cancer treatment by applying RNA nanotechnology. A therapeutic RNA nanoparticle is unique in that its scaffold, ligand, and therapeutic component can all be composed of RNA. The special physicochemical properties lend to the delivery of siRNA, miRNA, ribozymes, or riboswitches; imaging using fluogenenic RNA; and targeting using RNA aptamers. With recent advances in solving the chemical, enzymatic, and thermodynamic stability issues, RNA nanoparticles have been found to be advantageous for in vivo applications due to their uniform nano-scale size, precise stoichiometry, polyvalent nature, low immunogenicity, low toxicity, and target specificity. In vivo animal studies have revealed that RNA nanoparticles can specifically target tumors with favorable pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic parameters without unwanted accumulation in normal organs. This review summarizes the key studies that have led to the detailed understanding of RNA nanoparticle formation as well as chemical and thermodynamic stability issue. The methods for RNA nanoparticle construction, and the current challenges in the clinical application of RNA nanotechnology, such as endosome trapping and production costs, are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-89
Number of pages16
JournalAdvanced Drug Delivery Reviews
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Jennifer Rogers and Jeannie Haak for editing and formatting this review. The laboratory research was supported by NIH grants U01 CA151648 , R01 EB003730 to PG, who is a co-founder of Kylin Therapeutics, Inc., and Biomotor and Nucleic Acids Nanotech Development, Ltd. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NIH. Funding to Peixuan Guo's Endowed Chair in Nanobiotechnology is through the William Farish Endowment Fund .


  • Bacteriophage phi29
  • Biodistribution of nanoparticles
  • Cancer targeting
  • Nanobiotechnology
  • PRNA
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • RNA nanotechnology
  • RNA therapeutics
  • Three-way junction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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