Fighting disease with tiny, targeted, crystalline drug mules

January 27, 2016
Tumor cells, photo by Ed Uthman, Flickr

Development of effective new treatments for cancer, dementia, Parkinson's disease and other brain conditions is becoming possible from breakthrough discoveries being made in nanotechnology.

Research co-led by Eureka Prize winner Professor Dayong Jin at UTS, in collaboration with colleagues at Macquarie University, the University of Wollongong and the National University of Singapore, has taken a huge step closer to the engineering of nanoscale devices to aid the delivery of life-saving treatments.

A renowned biomolecular scientist, Professor Jin said such minute devices have the potential to be engineered to efficiently and more safely deliver drug treatments directly to the location of while helping avoid harm to that fall victim to toxic drugs administered by conventional means.

"Treatment for aggressive cancers by with radiation or chemical drugs might kill cancer cells, but can also kill up to 70 to 90 per cent of healthy cells," Professor Jin said.

"We see similar problems in the treatment of neurological diseases. There are many drugs available, however the blood-brain barrier protecting the brain from infection also blocks drug treatments – often the drug circulates through the blood stream without reaching the brain to fight a disease."

Ground-breaking work by Professor Jin and his colleagues over the past three years has produced a library of 800 different and uniquely shaped nanocrystals, formed from ordered atom clusters. The differently shaped "hybrid" nanocrystals act as new tools or molecular tags that enable and aid targeted drug delivery.

Professor Jin said the new types of nanocrystal could also assist in the development of clearer diagnostic bio-imaging such as MRI scans and X-rays.

"Hybrid nanocrystals are multifunctional and able to do different things simultaneously," he said. "For example, one can design a super nanoparticle that has optical, magnetic and chemical responses which allows for multiple modality imaging of a disease and in-time super high-resolution images.

"Having precise diagnostics is essential for enabling surgeons to operate. They need to understand exactly where the tumour is. If higher resolution imaging can more easily show a precise boundary between healthy cells and tumor cells, better outcomes can be achieved for patients.

"Now nanoparticles can be precisely controlled to create different shapes and sizes, we can investigate whether they have an impact on the transportation of drugs within the body. Ongoing research in collaboration with medical researchers will focus on further tailoring the design of such particles to deliver positive results."

This research can be viewed at Nature Communications.

Explore further: Cancer cells take up nanoparticles more rapidly than normal brain cells

More information: Deming Liu et al. Three-dimensional controlled growth of monodisperse sub-50 nm heterogeneous nanocrystals, Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10254

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