Nanotechnology research targets drug side effects

New technology focuses on administering doses more precisely

A patch containing 36 dissolving microneedles is shown on a fingertip. The microneedles dissolve wihin minutes after inserstion into skin to release encapsulated drug or vaccine. Credit: Jeong-Woo Lee, Georgia Tech

The 36 microneedles dissolve within minutes after insertion into skin to release an encapsulated drug or vaccine. Credit: Jeong-Woo Lee, Georgia Tech

Medications often carry a frightening list of side effects that friendly looking people on TV recite as they walk through a field of tulips. Many negative side effects occur when a drug’s active ingredients interact with the entire body — not only the intended target — and release imprecise dosages. With this in mind, nanotechnology researchers have been attempting to design other ways to control the administering of drugs.

One of these methods involves employing micro-thin needles and nano-sheets of graphene, a one-atom thick carbon-based material. Xinyan Tracy Cui and her colleagues from Pittsburgh University have pioneered a method using super thin sheets, which contain useful properties for drug delivery and dosage control.

Zaps release medication

The team designed a polymer scaffolding system that can conduct electricity, and they folded graphene sheets containing an anti-inflammatory medication into it. Once zapped with an electrical current, the scaffolding opened the sheets and the medication was released consistently and in time with each zap. The thickness of the sheets used changed how much of the drug was released. Repeated hundreds of times, the system yielded the same results.

These medical implants can be activated in a number of ways, including ultraviolet light. Cui’s research, published by ACS Nano, states that these experiments demonstrates that the released drug does not release any toxic byproducts.

This method of administering drugs could be useful for a number of situations. In epilepsy, for example, the medication is already inside the body and could be administered at the onset of a seizure. The technology could be adapted to many other treatment plans. The team is optimistic about the research, calling the drug delivery platform “an exciting candidate for on-demand drug delivery.”

Graphene sheets and electric currents are not the only ways that scientists are attempting to reduce side effects and ensure proper dosages. Researchers at Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering have developed micro-needle patches to accurately deliver medicine.

More precise targeting

These patches are flexible and resemble bandages found in first aid kits. Each little patch contains micro-thin needles that pierce the skin and dissolve, administering the medicine quickly and effectively.

Patches with microneedles have been around for a few years now, but this new patch excels at not wasting medication. It’s also easily mass produced. Scientists have engineered this patch to be malleable and water-soluble, allowing for more control in sizing and placement.

The designer, Joseph DeSimone, writes that the microneedles can be engineered to be rigid carriers of drugs that are capable of piercing the skin, while the substrate’s matrix can be tuned for flexibility, overcoming the elasticity of the skin.”

This research was initially published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Both projects have a few hurdles left to clear before becoming widely available to the public. These techniques still require tweaking to make them viable for many different kinds of drugs. After researchers finalize their techniques, they must then enter clinical trials and await final approval.

Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn is a journalist covering the tech beat and an adjunct professor at Montclair State University. He lives in New Jersey, where he had worked as a staff writer for several leading daily newspapers and websites.
Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn
Tags: Healthcare,Industries