Stories about: nanotechnology

Precision drug delivery systems could ‘trigger’ an age of nanomedicine

Nanoscale drug delivery systems could target and destroy diseases in our body with increased precision and reduced side effects.

What if we could deliver biocompatible nanoparticles into the body and then activate them to release drugs exactly where they are needed, without causing side effects elsewhere?

Scientists like Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital, are developing nanoscale drug delivery systems to do just that, using a variety of materials and triggers that are sensitive to a range of specific stimuli.

“Triggerable drug delivery systems could improve the treatment of many diseases by reducing side effects and increasing the effectiveness of therapeutics,” says Kohane, who directs the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at Boston Children’s. He is the senior author on a recent article about the topic in Nature Reviews Materials.

One potential use of nanoscale drug delivery systems is of special interest to Kohane and his lab members

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Injectable oxygen getting closer to clinical reality

John Kheir, MD, first envisioned an injectable form of oxygen eight years ago, the night one of his patients, a nine-month-old girl, died after catastrophic lung failure. Kheir, a cardiac intensive care specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, spoke last night to WBZ-TV’s Mallika Marshall, MD, about his efforts to try to buy precious time for children whose lungs stop working:

Want to know more? Read Kheir’s own words about his hopes and challenges for intravenous oxygen in a post he penned for Vector.

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Nanomedicine’s promise and challenges

nanomedicineGood things, including therapeutics, can come in small packages—and increasingly this means nano-sized packages. For a sense of the scale of these diminutive tools, a strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter.

Nanomedicine offers the promise of drugs that are activated by physiologic stimuli in the body (like the shear stress of blood flow that’s partially blocked by a clot), that can home to very specific targets in the body (like pancreatic islets that are being attacked by the immune system in diabetes) and that carry their own imaging agents—a built-in “metric” to show that they’re working. Biomaterials are being crafted to enhance their properties—like adding gold “nanowires” to heart patches to increase their electrical conductivity.

Vector’s new sister publication, Innovation Insider, looks at the promise and challenges of nanomedicine—both technical and regulatory. Read more about nanoscissors, theranostics, quantum dots and how the future is nano.

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Of magnets and bacteria: Filtering the blood of patients with sepsis

(Ryan Somma/Flickr)

There’s no other way to say it: sepsis is a horrible disease. It typically starts with a runaway bacterial infection in the blood, followed by a runaway immune response that severely damages the body it’s trying to save. The results: shock, multiple organ failure and—in between 210,000 and 375,000 people in the United States alone every year—death.

Part of the problem is that the methods available for treating sepsis aren’t particularly good. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria, but that still leaves bacterial debris floating in the bloodstream, fueling the already over-excited inflammatory response.

Removing the bacteria altogether—as fast as possible—would be the better solution. At least that’s what Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, thinks. His lab at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Division of Critical Care Medicine has developed a new approach that combines magnetic nanoparticles, a synthetic molecule (called bis-Zn-DPA) that binds to the bacteria, and magnetized microfluidic devices to pull bacteria from the blood quickly and efficiently.

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Building cyborg tissues: Bioengineering meets nanoelectronics

We're at the cusp of integrating miniaturized electronics and monitoring into engineered tissues and organs.

At the start of the 2009 Star Trek reboot (this is relevant, trust me), the USS Kelvin’s captain meets the enemy on their ship to try to negotiate a cease-fire. His crew uses a kind of sensing technology to track his vital signs—like heart rate, breathing, body temperature—right up to the moment of his untimely demise.

While we’re not quite up to the technology level of the Star Trek universe, the ability to remotely sense what’s going on in tissues and organs is something of a holy grail for bioengineers. This is especially true for artificial or engineered organs: If you’d grown a new kidney for a patient needing a transplant, for example, you’d want some way to monitor it and make sure it’s working properly. It’s something that the body does naturally, but that bioengineers have struggled to replicate.

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Breathing an idea to life: Injectable oxygen microparticles

This syringe, containing particles of oxygen gas mixed with liquid, can potentially save the lives of patients unable to breathe -- like the infant Kheir was unable to save early in his career.

John Kheir, MD, is a staff physician and researcher in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Boston Children’s Hospital. As reported this week in Science Translational Medicine, he led a team that created a method for IV oxygen delivery — tiny particles filled with oxygen gas, mixed with liquid and injected directly into the blood. In an emergency, the injections could potentially buy clinicians time to start life-saving therapies. The technology was reported by The Atlantic, Popular Science, Scientific American, Technology Review and other outlets.

It was an ordinary Saturday night in the ICU at Boston Children’s, in the fall of 2006.  One of my patients was a 9-month-old girl who was admitted with pneumonia, and was having trouble breathing. I had gone in to check on her just a few minutes before; although she was not feeling well, she reached out and touched my hand as I examined her. I assured her mother she was in the best possible place for her care.

Five minutes later, the code bell alarmed. Our team rushed into her room to the most horrific sight I have ever seen.

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Nanomedicine: Can islet-targeting drugs nip diabetes in the bud?

Spherical nanoparticle (Fangting/Wikimedia Commons)

Recent research on Type 1 diabetes has begun focusing on prevention: Studies indicate that children start developing diabetes-related autoantibodies sometimes years before they develop clinical diabetes requiring insulin shots. The autoantibodies are an indicator of insulitis – a precursor condition in which the insulin-producing islets in the pancreas become inflamed and infiltrated with white blood cells.

In animal models, immune-suppressing drugs have been shown to blunt this attack by curbing the number of white blood cells circulating in the body. That reduces the need for insulin treatment – but at a high cost: Given systemically, the high doses needed to suppress the immune attack cause kidney toxicity, reduce the ability to fight infections, and decrease the body’s ability to respond to insulin.

That’s a tough sell for a child who doesn’t yet have symptoms of diabetes – but that’s where nanotechnology can help, say researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Children’s Hospital Boston. What if immunosuppressants could be delivered in far smaller doses, just to where they’re needed in the pancreas?

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Could nanotechnology improve treatment of heart attack and heart failure?

People who have had a heart attack or have coronary artery disease often sustain damage that weakens their heart. Milder forms of heart failure can be treated with medications, but advanced heart dysfunction requires surgery or heart transplant. A team of physicians, engineers and materials scientists at Children’s Hospital Boston and MIT offers two alternative ways to strengthen weakened, scarred heart tissue — both involving nanotechnology.

One approach blends nanotechnology with tissue engineering to create a heart patch laced with gold whose cells all beat in time – as shown in the above video.

The other uses minute nanoparticles that can find their way to dying heart tissue, carrying stem cells, growth factors, drugs and other therapeutic compounds.

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Making sperm impotent

A patch-clamp recording captures the electrical activity of a single sperm cell.

It’s found only in the tails of sperm. It takes seven genes to build it. It gets activated as the sperm gets closer to the egg, giving it that extra whip and thrust to make it across the finish line.

David Clapham, its discoverer, named it CatSper. Blocking it could literally make sperm impotent. This could be the basis of a new contraceptive gel or a pill that could be used by men or women.

And that’s of interest to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With the world’s population projected to reach 7 billion this year,

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Tissue engineering meets nanotechnology: A look at tomorrow’s medicine

Tal Dvir, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratories of Robert Langer, ScD (MIT) and Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD (Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School).

As tissue engineers, we seek to develop functioning substitutes for damaged tissues and organs. Generally, this means seeding cells onto 3-dimensional porous scaffolds made of biomaterials, which provide mechanical support and instructive cues for the developing engineered tissue. Now it’s time to go to the next level, and make complex tissues that can really do things — contract, release growth factors, conduct electrical signals and more. Things our own cells and tissues do.

A review by Dvir et al: http://bit.ly/fXNatureNano-v

Engineering a functional tissue is difficult. Cells must be organized into tissues with structural and physiological features resembling actual structures in the body. The outer connective tissue that supports cells, known as the extracellular matrix, is especially interesting to us. The matrix and its components — fibers, adhesion proteins, proteoglycans and others — provide cells with a wealth of information that regulates cell growth, shape, migration and differentiation.

To mimic these physiologic features, we work at the nanoscale – creating structures at the range of 1 billionth of a meter,

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