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Nanomedicine: Big news on a microscopic scale

by Sruthi Valluri, DOTmed News | June 24, 2011
From the June 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

At 27 nanometers, Aurimune’s gold nanoparticle can easily exit the blood stream at these cancer-specific sites and deliver TNF. The drug then binds to the tumor’s blood vessels and causes them to die off.

The size of nanoparticles is what makes them such attractive candidates for cancer therapy. Conventional chemotherapy relies on high doses of drugs and indiscriminate targeting. Both healthy and cancerous cells are exposed to toxic chemicals that may or may not have the intended effect. “In the world of nanomedicine, cancer is the lowest hanging fruit, the easiest target,” says Tamarken.

Dr. Bob Langer, an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has also harnessed nanoparticles to treat cancer. Langer has been on the frontline of nanotechnological research for the past twenty years and operates the world’s largest academic bioengineering lab. One of Langer’s nanoparticles is currently in clinical trials through Bind Biosciences, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that Langer co-founded.

According to Langer, nanotechnology lends itself to the field of cancer therapies because of its ability to deliver high concentrations of drugs at specific targets but without many of the side effects associated with chemotherapies. The medical nanoengineering platform that Bind Biosciences is currently testing involves nano-sized doses of cancer drugs.

But Langer’s technique coats the drug with plastic to control the rate of the drug’s release into the system. A secondary coat of water protects the drug from the body’s immune system. Finally, markers are added to direct the drug to its target. The end result, Langer says, is target-specific, controlled release of cancer therapies that can be anywhere between 1,000 and 100,000 times more powerful than traditional treatments.

The scale of nanoparticles also makes them attractive for other areas of medical research. NanoBio Corporation, an Ann Arbor, Mich.- based company, is currently in clinical trials for a topical herpes labialis treatment for cold sores at the site of infection. The company, originally a spin-off of research at the University of Michigan, entered into an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline in December, 2009.

Their product uses emulsions composed of nanometer-sized droplets, each a combination of two detergents, oil, and water—to treat infections. At 200 nanometers, the emulsions are small enough to easily permeate the skin and treat the virus, but big enough to avoid absorption into the blood stream. Unlike traditional antibiotic and antifungal treatments, nanoparticles would eliminate the need for systemic-wide treatment of many localized infections.

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