Fighting disease with tiny, targeted, crystalline drug mules

Tumor cells, photo by Ed Uthman, Flickr

Tumor cells, photo by Ed Uthman, Flickr

In summary: 
  • Research has taken a huge step closer to the engineering of nanoscale devices to aid the delivery of life-saving drug treatments.
  • People with cancer and a range of brain diseases may receive far more targeted and effective treatment from crystalline nanoparticles.

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 drug treatments.

Professor Dayong Jin, photo courtesy UTS: Science Professor Dayong Jin, photo courtesy UTS: Science

A renowned biophotonics 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 diseased cells while helping avoid harm to healthy cells 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 at Macquarie University 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

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