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Promise and Progress - Special Delivery: Biodegradable Particles Transport Drugs to Diseased Tissues and Organs

The Time is Now: 2010-2011

Special Delivery: Biodegradable Particles Transport Drugs to Diseased Tissues and Organs

Date: November 11, 2010


Justin Hanes
Justin Hanes helped develop nanoparticles which degrade over time into harmless components. This could one day carry life-saving drugs to patients suffering from dozens of health conditions, including cancer.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2010

Researchers have created biodegradable ultra tiny, nanosized particles that can easily slip through the body’s sticky and viscous mucus secretions to deliver a sustained-release medication cargo.

The interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Justin Hanes, Ph.D., professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Nanomedicine, developed the nanoparticles, which degrade over time into harmless components. The team believes they could one day carry life-saving drugs to patients suffering from dozens of health conditions, including cancer.

The new technology is expected to help patients suffering from diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, that affect mucus-lined surfaces of the body, but the nanoparticles also could be used to help treat lung and cervical cancers, says Hanes. He is working with Chien-Fu Hung, Ph.D., and T.C. Wu, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., to develop their use in cancer treatment. “Chemotherapy is typically given to the whole body and has many undesired side effects,” he said. “For example, if drugs are encapsulated in these nanoparticles and inhaled directly into the lungs of lung cancer patients, drugs may reach lung tumors more effectively, and improved outcomes may be achieved, especially for patients diagnosed with early stage non–small cell lung cancer.”

The new biodegradable particles are comprised of two parts made of molecules routinely used in existing medications. An inner core traps therapeutic agents inside while a dense outer coating allows a particle to move through mucus nearly as easily as if it were moving through water and also permits the drug to remain in contact with affected tissues for an extended period of time.

“The major advance here is that we were able make biodegradable nanoparticles that can rapidly penetrate thick and sticky mucus secretions, and that these particles can transport a wide range of therapeutic molecules, from small molecules, such as chemotherapeutics and steroids, to macromolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids,” Hanes said. “Previously, we could not get these kinds of sustained-release treatments through the body’s sticky mucus layers effectively.”

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, a National Center for Research Resources Clinical and Translational Science Award, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the National Science Foundation and a Croucher Foundation Fellowship.

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