News Feature | March 14, 2014

The University of Illinois Develops Nanoparticle Drug Delivery System

By Cyndi Root

The University of Illinois at Chicago has announced via press release that researchers have developed a nanoparticle drug delivery system. The process allows precise delivery of anti-inflammatory drugs to out of control immune cells without harming properly functioning cells. The Nature Nanotechnology journal published the results. Asrar B. Malik of the UIC College of Medicine, the lead author of the paper said, “The nanoparticle is very much like a Trojan horse, incredibly precise and targets only those immune cells that are actively contributing to inflammatory disease.”

Inflammatory Diseases

The immune system responds to invaders like viruses by mounting a defense. The process becomes harmful when immune cells make mistakes and attack healthy cells. Normal immune system functioning is characterized by neutrophils that gather near threats and injuries to soak up bacterial debris. When the immune system runs amok, the neutrophils gather excessively, sticking to the walls of blood vessels, and damaging the tissues. The situation can become severe, especially when located in the lungs, causing a high risk of death. Treatment with corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is inefficient as the agents affect the whole body not just the errant immune cells. Additionally, current therapies have significant side effects. 

Nanoparticle Delivery

The system developed by University of Chicago researchers makes use of protein nanoparticles. The particles bind to neutrophils that clump together or stick to blood vessels. The nanoparticle is engineered to find these neutrophils as they have unique receptors that healthy cells do not have. Once the nanoparticle binds to the mutant neutrophil receptor, the neutrophil absorbs the drug, neutralizing it and sending the cell into the bloodstream.

Malik and associates were able to view the process in real time and capture the images. They used mice with vascular inflammation and used intra-vital microscopy to follow the nanoparticles in transit as the particles were infused with a fluorescent dye. The researchers added piceatannol, a cell-cell anti-adhesion drug, to the nanoparticles. They observed the drug/nanoparticle duo bind to neutrophils on the capillaries but not to neutrophils freely circulating. With the faulty cells bound and neutralized, they no longer contributed to inflammation.  

The American Heart Association and the National Institute of Health supported the research in part.