Monday, October 12, 2009

Clemson bioengineer uses nanoparticles to target drugs

Clemson bioengineer Frank Alexis is designing new ways to target drugs and reduce the chances for side effects.

Pharmaceutical commercials can cause the unsettling feeling that if the disease doesn't kill, the cure will, what with a drug's long list of side effects and warnings. Many therapeutic drugs administered by pill, cream, syringe, IV or liquid can be a hit or miss delivery system. Researchers report that only 1 of 100,000 molecules of an intravenous drug make it to the intended spot in the body.

"The big issues for making medicines more effective are getting drugs to where they are needed and keeping them from breaking down as they circulate through the body," said Alexis. "A way to improve targeting a drug and preventing it from being passed out of the body is putting it in envelopes — putting the drug inside something to protect it until it's at the right spot."

The envelopes Alexis uses are nanoparticles. Think of an M&M, with the nanoparticle being the hard outer candy shell and the chocolate being the medicine. The goal would be the same as for an M&M — to melt in the right place.

Nanotechnology operates on the molecular level. It involves engineering materials on such a small scale that the results can be seen only with electron and atomic force microscopes. Nano-engineers take advantage of natural forces — positive and negative electrical charges, attraction and repulsion, surface texture — to have materials self assemble.


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