The science of nanotechnology has revolutionized a number of fields, but the greatest revolution may have to do with the heart. Nanoparticles are being explored as a means to improve several conditions ranging from cancer to pain, and most recently, they are being evaluated for their role in the prevention of heart attacks. Given these advances, it’s worth to take a more in-depth look at this new biomedical therapy approach and the impact it might have.
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Before describing the latest research related to this biomedical therapy, we must understand the basics of nanoparticles. Advances in technology have offered new techniques that can create sub-micron particles. These particles can then offer advantages due to their size and their ability to access parts of our bodies that have been initially difficult to reach. Likewise, these same nanoparticles have the potential to reduce unwanted side effects while enhancing treatment effectiveness. These are the benefits that have many researchers and businesses exploring their potential as a revolutionary biomedical therapy.
A “Pac-Man” Biomedical Therapy for Plaque
The latest medical research involving nanoparticles comes out of a collaboration between Michigan State University and Stanford University. Researchers developed nanoparticles that could be introduced into the human body. Once inside, these nanoparticles selectively seek out specific immune cells called macrophages. And in turn, they get inside these cells, causing them to enhance their capacity to dissolve atherosclerotic plaque. Ultimately, that results in these macrophages removing a sizable amount of plaque from the arteries. Naturally, this case reduces the risk for heart attacks subsequently as the plaque is reduced and stabilized.
The precise mechanism by which these nanoparticles serve as a biomedical therapy is fascinating. Each of the nanoparticles contains “nano-tubes” that contain a drug chemical. This chemical, known as the SHP1 inhibitor, is released into the macrophages once the nanoparticles come in contact with these cells. SHP1 inhibitor then shuts down an intercellular pathway inside the macrophage that typically halts its metabolism of plaque. Macrophages then resume their plaque-eating activity, which reduces arterial blockages over time. What is most striking about this approach is its capacity to work from inside the cell. As a biomedical therapy, this detail has excellent potential for managing a host of other medical conditions.
Nanoparticles Can Also Serve as Decoys
In addition to the research described above, nanoparticles are being utilized in other ways as a biomedical therapy. At Northwestern University, researchers recently injected nanoparticles into the bloodstream of patients who had recently suffered a traumatic brain injury. These tiny particles served as “decoys” for circulating immune cells responding to the brain injury. As a result, the inflammation that would generally occur after the injury was reduced. Since many of the circulating immune cells, called monocytes, were tricked into attacking the nanoparticles, less brain swelling occurred. This development has notable benefits in patients who suffer a variety of injuries where excessive inflammation is an issue.
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Other Biomedical Therapy Approaches Using Nanoparticles
Nanoparticles are being used as a biomedical therapy technique in other instances as well. Many companies are now exploring their use as a drug-delivery agent. Because drugs provided as nanoparticles are much smaller, they can be used in conditions where drug administration may be difficult. In addition, many drugs must be given in large dosages and/or have harmful side effects. Nanoparticles can reduce the dose required in many instances and, thus, minimize side effects as well. The following are a few companies involved in this type of biomedical therapy services.
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- iCeutica – This Australian-based company has raised over $5.1 million in funding in efforts to develop an encapsulated nanoparticle therapy. Its SoluMatrix Fine Particle Technology allows drug delivery that is 10 to 200 times smaller in size. This detail allows for increased bioavailability, the onset of action, lower doses and fewer side effects. To date, this biomedical therapy has been evaluated for pain, inflammation, cancer and respiratory conditions.
- Zylo Therapeutics – Based in South Carolina, this business has raised over $3.5 million in funding. Its primary product involves using nanoparticles as a sustained-release topical drug delivery system. With nitrous oxide, the company’s Z-pods are being used for pain relief, neurogenic erectile dysfunction and dermatologic conditions. The company has even received an NIH grant to explore this biomedical therapy further.
- Cour Pharmaceuticals – With over half a million in funding, this American startup explores nanoparticles as therapies to manage immune conditions. Using research that initially started at Northwestern University, the startup has enabled nanoparticles to modulate the immune response by targeting specific proteins. To date, this biomedical therapy approach has been explored in Celiac Disease and other select autoimmune conditions.
- Meda Biotech – Based in India, this startup is using nanoparticles to create hybrid drug delivery systems. In essence, these hybrid treatments deliver more than one drug when treating a condition. Leveraging nanoparticles’ advantages in tissue targeting, improved efficiency, and lower toxicities, these treatments offer clear benefits. The company is currently exploring this case as an effective biomedical therapy for cancer, pain, inflammation, gastrointestinal disease and vascular problems.
Size Does Matter —But Not the Way You Think!
The lure of nanoparticles as a biomedical therapy specifically relates to a few key characteristics. Indeed, the size of these submicron particles offers a tremendous advantage. But, at the same time, nanoparticles can be more specific and precise in their effects. Whether the mechanism of action is intercellular or extracellular, these offer notable benefits in the treatment of a variety of conditions. As companies progressively discover how to harness the power of this innovative approach, tremendous advances in medicine are certainly likely.