Nanoparticles have been the focus of numerous research projects recently, aiming to improve the delivery of drugs using this novel technology.
Effective drug delivery can be a challenge in some types of diseases. One of the most problematic malignancies is brain cancer, because in addition to the similarity of cancer cells to their healthy counterparts, the brain is protected by a strong barrier called the blood-brain barrier. This raises insurmountable challenges for drug delivery.
Nanoparticles used for drug delivery are generally about 100 nm in size and are made of biodegradable materials (for example albumin, gelatine, phospholipids and various types of polymers). They act as carriers by enhancing the solubility and delivery of the drug. Due to their size, nanoparticles are taken up by cells more efficiently than larger particles, however, they are more stable in the body than smaller molecules.
Nanoparticles can enhance the specificity of drugs by containing a so-called “guider.” This guider is recognized by the target cell, which takes up the nanoparticle together with the drug. However, off-target cells (i.e. healthy ones) do not pick up the nanoparticle, reducing the side effects of the medication.
Another example of the use of nanoparticles in cancer therapy is the treatment of glioblastoma by use of iron oxide nanoparticles (NanoTherm®, MagForce AG, Germany). This very aggressive and uncurable brain tumor is injected with iron oxide nanoparticles. The patient is then exposed to an alternating magnetic field, which heats up the brain tumor and kills the malignant cells. This treatment can significantly prolong the survival time of the patients.
As seen here, nanotechnology is a highly promising area in the field of medical applications, and its use will certainly be investigated in more detail in the close future.
Sarabjeet Singh Suri, Hicham Fenniri, and Baljit Singh. Nanotechnology-based drug delivery systems. J Occup Med Toxicol. 2007; 2: 16