Larry Gold and Craig Tuerk: Pioneers in the Discovery of Aptamers

Advances in science and technology are often the result of the dedication, passion and collaboration of brilliant minds. One such remarkable breakthrough in the field of biotechnology is the discovery of aptamers, a class of molecules that has revolutionized research and diagnostics in biology and medicine. Larry Gold and Craig Tuerk are two names that deserve a prominent place in the history of aptamers, as they played a pivotal role in their discovery and development. The first aptamers were isolated in 1990 by Larry Gold and Craig Tuerk. These consisted of RNA ligands that recognized the DNA polymerase of bacteriophage T4.

Aptamers are single-stranded oligonucleotides or peptides that have the unique ability to selectively bind to a specific molecule. This selectivity is what makes them valuable in a wide range of applications, from medical diagnostics to therapeutics and biomarker detection. In this regard, aptamers are the research base of our partners in the OLIGOFASTX consortium, Aptus Biotech and AptaTargets.

Larry Gold: The Visionary

Larry Gold is a biochemist and professor at the University of Colorado. In the 1990s, Gold and his team were interested in developing a technology that would allow the identification of molecules capable of selectively binding to other compounds. They were inspired by biological evolution and created a revolutionary technique called SELEX (Systematic Evolution of Ligands by Exponential Enrichment), which allowed the identification of aptamers.

SELEX is a process that starts with a library of thousands of random nucleic acid sequences. These sequences undergo cycles of selection and amplification, where only sequences that selectively bind to a particular target are retained and amplified. Over time, this process leads to highly specific aptamers for the molecule of interest.

Craig Tuerk: The Creator of SELEX

Craig Tuerk, a chemist and researcher, joined Larry Gold at the University of Colorado and played a crucial role in the development of the SELEX technique. His expertise in chemistry and biochemistry contributed significantly to the optimisation of this innovative process. Tuerk also co-authored one of the most influential scientific papers on SELEX, published in 1990 in the journal Science. This article ushered in a new era in aptamer identification and catalysed a series of research and advances in the field.

The Impact of Aptamers on Research and Medicine

The discovery of aptamers has had a significant impact in a number of fields. These molecules are used to:

  • Biomarker Detection: Aptamers can detect with high specificity biomarkers that indicate diseases such as cancer, heart disease and viral infections.
  • Targeted Therapies: Aptamers have been investigated as drug delivery vehicles, allowing for more targeted therapies and fewer side effects.
  • Scientific Research: Aptamers are used in research to study specific molecular interactions and to better understand biological processes.
  • Rapid Diagnostics: Aptamers are used in rapid diagnostic tests, speeding up the medical diagnostic process.

Aptamers: A Promise for the Development of Rare Disease Therapies

Aptamers, thanks to their ability to specifically target pathogenic molecules, have significant potential in the development of therapies for rare diseases. This translates into personalised therapies, offering more effective treatments. In addition, their targeted delivery capability reduces unwanted side effects and maximises efficacy by delivering therapies directly to affected areas. They can also block disease-related biomarkers, slowing or stopping disease progression. The rapid selection and design process of aptamers speeds up the development of therapies, which is critical in the context of rare diseases. In addition, their application in research offers the potential to discover innovative new therapeutic approaches for these conditions, which could be life-changing for patients facing unique challenges in their medical care.




Aptamers and the RNA World, Past and Present – PMC

Selexion: Systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment with integrated optimization by non-linear analysis – ScienceDirect

Proteomics Might Have Saved My Mother’s Life. And It May Yet Save Mine. – The New York Times

History of Aptamers and Antibodies

Photo of Larry Gold:

Photo of Craig Tuerk: