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A new system for the controlled delivery of pharmaceutical drugs has been developed by a team of University of Rhode Island (URI) chemical engineers using nanoparticles embedded in a liposome that can be triggered by non-invasive electromagnetic fields. The discovery by URI professors Geoffrey Bothun and Arijit Bose and graduate student Yanjing Chen was published in the June issue of ACS Nano.

According to Bothun, liposomes are tiny nanoscale spherical structures made of lipids that can trap different drug molecules inside them for use in delivering those drugs to targeted locations in the body. The superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles the researchers embed in the shell of the liposome release the drug by making the shell leaky when heat-activated in an alternating current electromagnetic field operating at radio frequencies.

The researchers controlled the rate and extent of the release of a model drug molecule by varying the nanoparticle loading and the magnetic field strength. They received a quick release of the drug with magnetic field heating in a matter of 30 to 40 minutes; without heating there is minimal spontaneous leakage of the drug from the liposome.

According to Bothun, the liposomes self-assemble because portions of the lipids are hydrophilic – they have a strong affinity for water – and others are hydrophobic – they avoid water. When the lipids and nanoparticles were mixed in a solvent, added water and evaporated off the solvent, the materials automatically assembled themselves into liposomes. The hydrophobic nanoparticles and lipids joined together to form the shell of the liposome, while the water drug molecules were captured inside the spherical shell.

The concept of loading nanoparticles within the hydrophobic shell to focus the activation is described by Bothun as “brand new.” It works because the leakiness of the shell is ultimately what controls the release of the drugs. The next step in the research is to design and optimise liposome/nanoparticle assemblies that can target cancer cells or other disease-causing cells. In vitro cancer cell studies are already underway in collaboration with URI pharmacy professor Matthew Stoner. Although research on nanomedicine shows great promise, there are still many challenges to overcome, and the targeting of appropriate cells may be the greatest challenge.

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Have a great weekend, Paul.

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