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Stripes improve drug delivery using nanotechnology

For nanotech drug delivery methods to work properly, the nanoparticles must enter the cells without damaging the cell membrane, and then end up in the right compartment of the cell. MIT scientists are discovering what controls the proper movement of nanoparticles into cells—the right kinds of molecules must be arranged in the right patterns. From MIT News: “Stripes key to nanoparticle drug delivery”, written by Elizabeth A. Thomson, via KurzweilAI.net

In work that could at the same time impact the delivery of drugs and explain a biological mystery, MIT engineers have created the first synthetic nanoparticles that can penetrate a cell without poking a hole in its protective membrane and killing it.

The key to their approach? Stripes.

The team found that gold nanoparticles coated with alternating bands of two different kinds of molecules can quickly pass into cells without harming them, while those randomly coated with the same materials cannot. The research was reported in a recent advance online publication of Nature Materials [abstract].

“We’ve created the first fully synthetic material that can pass through a cell membrane without rupturing it, and we’ve found that order on the nanometer scale is necessary to provide this property,” said Francesco Stellacci, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and co-leader of the work with Darrell Irvine, the Eugene Bell Career Development Associate Professor of Tissue Engineering.

In addition to the practical applications of such nanoparticles for drug delivery and more—the MIT team used them to deliver fluorescent imaging agents to cells—the tiny spheres could help explain how some biological materials such as peptides are able to enter cells.

“No one understands how these biologically derived cell-penetrating materials work,” said Irvine. “So we could use the new particles to learn more about their biological counterparts. Could they be analogues of the biological system?”

When a cell membrane recognizes a foreign object such as a nanoparticle, it normally wraps around or “eats” it, encasing the object in a smaller bubble inside the cell that can eventually be excreted. Any drugs or other agents attached to the nanoparticle therefore never reach the main fluid section of the cell, or cytosol, where they could have an effect.

Such nanoparticles can also be “chaperoned” by biological molecules into the cytosol, but this too has drawbacks. Chaperones can work in some cells but not others, and carry one cargo but not another.

Hence the importance of the MIT work in developing nanoparticles that can directly penetrate the cell membrane, deliver their cargo to the cytosol, and do so without killing the cell.

—Jim

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