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Using nanotechnology to treat diseases

Drug delivery can be just as important as the drug used to treat a disease. An old-fashioned example is popping a pill or receiving a jab. The more sophisticated level involves the use of nanotechnology.

The problem with many current methods for drug delivery is that they either take a while to reach their intended target or they miss their intended target. With some drugs, like anti-cancer medications, indiscriminate application can do more harm than good if healthy cells are affected. Another limitation with many current methods is that during the course of the treatment multiple shots are required.

Nanotechnology, in the form of nanoparticles, has a solution to these problems. Researchers have been working on ways to deliver medication to the large intestine. Currently something, like a pill, is consumed and it is hoped that the swallowed drug makes its way from the stomach to the small intestine, and then onwards to the large intestine. Conditions of the large intestine include irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and infections triggered by bacteria like Clostridium difficile.

The research focus is on using biodegradable nanoparticles that can be coated with a particular medication, in a powder form. Such technology has been developed at Purdue University.

Key to the technology is developing a substance that can withstand passage through the body. This is particularly important for conditions of the large intestine, given that it can take up to 12 hours to reach this organ.

The smart capsule developed has been designed in a way to be long lasting and robust to survive different conditions, like changing acidity. It is also designed to cope with the different types of fluid motions found within the body. To do this, the developed capsule is charged and it can be controlled by an external magnet. The developed prototype is to undergo further research. This will include animal models.

The research has been published in theInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) journal Transactions on Biomedical Engineering. The paper is titled “A smart capsule with GI-tract-location-specific payload release.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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