A new way to fight Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases aims to deliver a drug deep into the brain using nanoparticles
Alzheimer's is linked with the build up of damaging protein deposits in the brain and now a novel way to hinder this process is under development by a team at University College Dublin.
The team has a fundamental discovery in predicting how particles of the order of a billionth of a metre - nanoparticles - move around the body.
They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today that the size and the electrical charge of the nanoparticle matters, not just what it is made of.
The team found that a coating of proteins, called a corona, built up around the particles and this response mainly depends on the size and the charge of the nanoparticle.
This discovery, which shows that different sizes of the same materials pick up different proteins from the body, has a number of fundamental implications. "The find knocked my socks off," said Prof Kenneth Dawson, who led the work.
This find can be exploited to guide nanoparticles around the body.
The Dublin team is investigating how to exploit this to design nanoparticles to take an Alzheimer's drug to the brain.
Work by Prof Günter Oberdörster at the University of Rochester and Wolfgang Kreyling in Germany shows that nanoparticles can move into the brains of animals.
"It could change the face of health care if we learn how to exploit this potential to guide particles to important destinations in the body, such as the brain" said Prof Dawson.
"We have also now just found that certain nanoparticles are able to reverse the growth of Alzheimer plaques (the deposits of protein linked with the disease)," he said, explaining how they particles disrupt the smaller protein deposits that are thought to be the most toxic.
These experiments are only at the test tube stage, "but if we can combine the capacity of nanoparticles to get into the brain with this effect of reversing the growth of plaques that would point a way forward in these diseases."
By the same token of course, there should be caution and, as with any new technology, it must be "tested very carefully first," said Prof Dawson.
Thus, when people are exposed to nanoparticles they may penetrate into different parts of the body, with unknown health effects. So it is important to study the problems carefully, and not jump to conclusions, one way or the other, too quickly, he said.
Nanoparticles are as much as a million times smaller than the head of a pin, and have unusual properties compared with larger objects made from the same material.
The potential interactions of nanomaterials with the body and the environment have attracted increasing attention from the public as well as manufacturers of nanomaterial based products, academic researchers, and policy makers.
Nanoparticles can in principle make faster computers, and smaller mobile phones, as well as address some of the most intractable diseases. Nanotechnology is expected to become a $1 trillion industry within the next decade.
However, it is important that the be introduced safely and a new international research alliance to establish protocols for reproducible toxicological testing of nanomaterials in both cultured cells and animals was unveiled a few days ago at Nanotox 2008, a major research meeting.
This Alliance will be able to check each others work around the world, and build confidence in science, and further afield.
"When this team of scientists from Europe, the US and Japan are able to get the same results for interactions of nanomaterials with biological organisms, then science and society can have higher confidence in the safety of these materials," said Prof Dawson.
"This will open the doors to many potential benefits for society at large."
Posted by Bob Grant
[Entry posted at 23rd September 2008 04:02 PM GMT]