Synthetic biology is the endeavor to add engineering principles to the realm of biology. These principles, such as standardized genetic parts and isolation of parts from the larger context of the cell, are utilized to achieve the predictable design and implementation of cellular functions. Oftentimes, this engineering of cellular function is brought about by extensive genetic modification of cells, bringing in sensors and actuators which eventually execute the genetic programs designed by the researcher.
In the field of synthetic biology, this can both be done in prokaryotic cells (such as bacteria) as well as in eukaryotic cells (such as human cells). And in recent years examples of gene circuits in all domains of life inspired by synthetic biology have been brought forward by researchers. One major category of gene circuits is designed with therapeutic purposes in mind. By sensing disease-relevant inputs and subsequently contributing to curing a given disease, these engineered cells offer a new way forward in the dawn of personalized medicine.
About two and a half years ago by now, at the very start of my PhD in the group of Prof. Martin Fussenegger at ETH Zurich, I therefore wrote a review for the journal Current Opinion in Chemical Biology. In this piece, we detailed the examples of therapeutic gene circuits in bacteria and mammalian cells available in the literature at that time to see where the field stands for now and where improvement is necessary or would be beneficial. If you’re interested in cell-based therapy or synthetic biology at large have a look at the review!