Using cellular backpacks to deliver drugs (Day 241)

Using cellular backpacks to deliver drugs (Day 241)

23rd January 2015

As engineers we are always looking for ways to simplify procedures and get the best for consumers.

Often the best lessons we can learn come from taking cues from systems that already exist in nature.

New research from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has done just that by developing a method of targeting inflamed tissues with cellular backpacks.

Inflammation is a common process in the human body and is in fact a beneficial mechanism used by our bodies to respond to an injury or infection. The pain, swelling and heat we feel are our body’s way of protecting its delicate soft tissues, removing the source of the problem and beginning the healing process.

However, when we talk about inflammation we generally discuss its dangerous side. Persistent inflammation can lead to serious conditions, including reducing our ability to heal.

Photo Credit | Sonia Fernandez UCSBFrom left to right Aaron Anselmo, Samir Mitragotri and Sunny Kumar

A team of researchers from the Centre for Bioengineering at UCSB led by Samir Mitragotri, professor of chemical engineering and director of the Centre have been working with colleagues from MIT to find a way to target this problem.

Samir says: “Many diseases result in inflammation. If we could target the common denominator, whether the inflammation is coming from cancer or arthritis, we could deliver the drug there.”

The team is using the natural abilities of the body to find a way to treat persistent inflammation and its cause.

This work was recently published in the Journal of Controlled Release; and details Monocyte-mediated delivery of polymeric backpacks to inflamed tissues.

Aaron Anselmo, graduate student researcher at UCSB and lead author of the paper, described his work as “a cell-mediated approach to targeted drug delivery.”

Photo Credit | Peter Allen Illustration UCSBDisc-shaped microparticles use monocytes to get to their destination

This technology works by using monocytes - a type of white blood cell which is able to penetrate deep sections of tissue.

Normally these cells circulate in the blood stream responding to the signals of inflammation.

Once they arrive at a site of inflammation the monocytes transform into macrophages and engulf and digest the foreign material (the cause of infection).

The team used the additional expertise of chemical engineering and material science research from MIT to develop an approach to mimic this natural process.

MIT graduate researcher Jonathan Gilbert and professors Robert Cohen and Michael Rubner, worked with the UCSB team to develop an approach based on “cellular backpacks”.

These cellular backpacks are flat, disc-shaped polymeric particles that could hold drugs that can be released at the site of the inflammation. These discs are coated on one side with a single layer of an antibody that can bind to receptors on the monocyte’s surface and thus take them to the site of infection.

It is hoped that this work can help deliver more effective drug doses. By efficiently packing the drugs required it is possible to target specific tissues and body systems.

Tests so far have shown that the backpacks are successful in binding to the monocytes, without impairing their function. The team now intend to undertake future research to see how much drug can be packed into the backpacks!