New discovery reveals fate of nanoparticles in human cells

September 22, 2009

Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have uncovered what happens to biomimetic nanoparticles when they enter human cells. They found that the important proteins that make up the outer layer of these nanoparticles are degraded by an enzyme called cathepsin L. Scientists now have to take this phenomenon into account and overcome this process to ensure the exciting field of nanomedicine can progress. The research is published today in ACS Nano.

Dr RaphaĆ«l Lévy, a BBSRC David Phillips Fellow at the University of Liverpool and lead researcher on the project said: "We've known for some time that nanoparticles are taken into and there have been experiments done to establish their final destinations, but we didn't know until now what state they are in by the time they get there."

In most biological applications, nanoparticles are coated with a layer of molecules, often proteins, which determine the use of nanoparticles when they enter cells. The researchers have confirmed, in a wide range of cells, that nanoparticles are taken into a region called the endosome, where this essential coating is degraded by cathepsin L.

Dr Violaine Sée, also a BBSRC David Phillips Fellow at the University of Liverpool, and joint corresponding author, added: "One of the promising applications of in medicine is to use them as a method to deliver therapeutic molecules inside cells. For these biological therapies to be effective the proteins have to be maintained with high integrity and unfortunately we have seen this compromised by the degrading action of cathepsin L."

The design of any intracellular nanodevice must now take into account the possibility of cathepsin L degradation and either bypass the endosome area all together or have some built-in inhibition of the enzyme.

Dr Lévy continued: "The methods we have developed will help with this as we can now measure the location and the state of the nanoparticle quickly and quantitatively."

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: "Nanotechnology is an interesting area that has the potential to push all sorts of technological boundaries. There is promise of some useful applications in biology and we've already seen some excellent results with the development of nanomagnetic technology to guide therapeutic proteins and DNA to specific sites to treat tumours, for example. Fundamental bioscience research such as this, helps drive forward nanomedicine to ensure it has a real impact on health and wellbeing in the future."

Source: and Biological Sciences Research Council (news : web)

Explore further: New nanoparticles could revolutionize therapeutic drug discovery

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Graphene under pressure

August 25, 2016

Small balloons made from one-atom-thick material graphene can withstand enormous pressures, much higher than those at the bottom of the deepest ocean, scientists at the University of Manchester report.

Designing ultrasound tools with Lego-like proteins

August 25, 2016

Ultrasound imaging is used around the world to help visualize developing babies and diagnose disease. Sound waves bounce off the tissues, revealing their different densities and shapes. The next step in ultrasound technology ...

Nanovesicles in predictable shapes

August 25, 2016

Beads, disks, bowls and rods: scientists at Radboud University have demonstrated the first methodological approach to control the shapes of nanovesicles. This opens doors for the use of nanovesicles in biomedical applications, ...

'Artificial atom' created in graphene

August 22, 2016

In a tiny quantum prison, electrons behave quite differently as compared to their counterparts in free space. They can only occupy discrete energy levels, much like the electrons in an atom - for this reason, such electron ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.