More Breakthroughs in Nanotechnology Could Lead to Improvements in Drug Delivery and Medicine


Researchers have developed a precise and non-toxic nanoscale technology that can deliver oncology drugs directly to cancer cells. The minuscule tubes are called peptoids.

The research was led by Yuehe Lin, professor at Washington State University’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and Chun-Long Chen, senior research scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and joint faculty member at University of Washington. The study was published in the journal Small.

The peptoids are about a thousand times thinner than a human hair. The researchers took the nanotubes, which were inspired by biological models, and rolled them into nanosheet membranes. They were then able to use a variety of drugs, fluorescent dyes and cancer-targeting molecules and place them into the nanotubes, which allowed them to track the drug delivery.

The two drugs they used were a chemotherapy agent and a less-invasive photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapeutic compounds release reactive oxygen species (ROS) that kill cancer cells when exposed to light. The combination therapy allowed the researchers to use lower doses of the chemotherapeutic, which decreased the toxicity.

“By precisely engineering these nanotubes with fluorescent dyes and cancer targeting molecules, scientists can clearly locate tumor cells and track how the drug regimen is performing,” said Lin. “We can also track how nanotubes enter and deliver the drugs inside the cancer cell.”

They evaluated the peptoids on lung cancer cells. The chemotherapy drug was doxorubicin. The system delivered the drug directly to the cancer cells, which resulted in what it describes as highly efficient cancer killing, all while using much lower doses of doxorubicin.

“This is a promising approach for precision targeting with little damage to healthy surrounding cells,” Lin said.

What is new about the research is the use of the peptoids. Other research has been conducted using carbon nanotubes and other nanomaterials, but there are toxicity issues. They also weren’t as effective at precisely recognizing molecules.

“By using these peptoids, we were able to develop highly programmable nanotubes and a biocompatible delivery mechanism,” Chen said. “We also harnessed the high stability of peptoid and its well-controlled packing to develop nanotubes that are highly stable.”

Research into nanotechnology is making progress, although it’s not clear just how much of it, if any, is making it into clinical applications. In August, researchers at Rutgers University-New Brunswick published research about a nanotechnology platform that helps identify what happens to specific stem cells.

Stem cells are key building blocks that can differentiate into all the different types of cells in the body, including brain cells and heart cells and skin cells. Increasingly, researchers are utilizing adult human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to develop drugs and work on therapies.

The researchers monitored the creation of neurons from human stem cells by identifying next-generation biomarkers called exosomes. Exosomes are particles released by cells and they play a critical function in cell-to-cell communication.

“One of the major hurdles in the current cell-based therapies is the destructive nature of the standard cell characterization step,” stated senior author KiBum Lee, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. “With our technology, we can sensitively and accurately characterize the cells without compromising their viabilities.”

The technology platform utilizes minuscule nanotubes for sensing. Specifically, the authors reported using a “multifunctional magneto-plasmonic nanorid (NR)-based detection platform.”

Researchers at Texas Heart Institute (THI) recently used bio-compatible nanotubes invented at Rice University to restore electrical function to damaged hearts.

“Instead of shocking and defibrillating, we are actually correcting diseased conduction of the largest major pumping chamber of the heart by creating a bridge to bypass and conduct over a scarred area of a damaged heart,” stated Mehdi Razavi, a cardiologist and director of Electrophysiology Clinical Research and Innovations at THI. Razavi co-led the study with Matteo Pasquali, a chemical and biomolecular engineer at Rice University.

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