Wireless nanoscale devices augment drug delivery and diagnostics

It may be time to rethink drug delivery and diagnostics approaches, and that's what's happening at the recently launched MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.

Researchers there are investigating new nanoscale drug delivery systems that could treat diseases like cancer. In addition, they are developing implantable sensor devices that could monitor responses to nanoscale treatments and detect diseases like heart attacks.

Anne Trafton of the MIT News Office writes that thus far, “Modern medicine is based on treating patients with 'small-molecule' drugs.” But, she continues, nanoscale drug delivery approaches could be more beneficial: “Delivering RNA or DNA to specific cells offers the promise of selectively turning genes on or off, while nanoscale devices that can be injected or implanted in the body could allow doctors to target drugs to specific tissues over a defined period of time.”

She quotes Daniel Anderson, the Samuel A. Goldblith Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science and David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, as saying, “There’s a growing understanding of the biological basis of disease, and a growing understanding of the roles certain genes play in disease. The question is, ‘How can we take advantage of this?’”

Anderson is working on a technique based on RNA interference (RNAi), and he is also investigating a technique called “nucleic-acid origami” to fold DNA and RNA into structures that can target cancer cells. And Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering and a member of the Koch Institute, is employing a layer-by-layer assembly technique to create nanoparticles that combine RNA with a chemotherapy drug.

In addition, writes Trafton, “Michael Cima, the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering, and Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor, both members of the Koch Institute, are working on nano- and microscale devices that can be implanted in the body to release drugs or diagnose disease.”

Cima and Langer have developed an implantable chip can be controlled wirelessly to dispense medicine inside the body. MicroCHIPS Inc. is commercializing the chip, and clinical trials showed it could deliver precise doses of an osteoporosis medication normally given by injection.

Trafton also wites that Cima is also working on implantable diagnostic devices that could help monitor responses to treatment or help detect other illnesses. One sensor he developed uses magnetic nanoparticles to detect proteins that are released during a heart attack.

Trafton concludes by quoting Cima as saying, “We’re doing this because we can do some cool technology, but more importantly, we’re doing it is because there’s a clinically meaningful need.”

Read the complete article at MIT news.

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