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The New Rosetta Stone: Nanostructures

April 20, 2015

The New Rosetta Stone

These engineered micro particles are revolutionizing medicine

Imagine going to the doctor with a persistent sore throat and you gargle with a special solution that will confirm or rule out cancer of the tongue, mouth, or larynx in a matter of minutes. How about a new cancer-detecting yogurt you can eat instead of undergoing an invasive colonoscopy? Or maybe you can rub on a salve containing a time-released drug that seeps through your skin to seek out and destroy diseased cells in your kidneys, liver, or lungs? The stuff of science fiction? Hardly. (Reference: Israeli physicist uses gold to help detect cancer early, Haaretz. See also, Kevin Bullis, “Cancer-detecting Yogurt Could Replace Colonoscopies,” MIT Technology Review (October 2, 2014), V1.13.05.10; Andrew W. Salamon, Nanopharmaceuticals and PerkinElmer, White Paper)

Thanks to advances in nanotechnology (the manipulation of matter at the atomic and molecular scale), a growing number of us are gargling, inhaling, and swallowing our way to improved health and longer lives by ingesting diagnostic and therapeutic nanopharmaceuticals. These engineered micro-particles can not only “light up” diseased cells, some are literally blowing them up with little or no collateral damage to surrounding healthy tissue. (Reference, Andrew W. Salamon, Nanopharmaceuticals and PerkinElmer, White Paper)

How do they work? Nanopharmaceuticals are a new order of drug delivery systems developed in nanoscale, with a nanometer (nm) measuring one billionth of a meter in size. Do not let their size fool you. A single nanoparticle has a huge surface area of four square meters per gram. That special feature allows scientists to build and manipulate nanoparticle structures, such as nanotubes, quantum dots, buckyballs, and liposome shells, to name just a few. These engineered structures have higher dose capacities and are changing how drugs enter and circulate in the body. (Reference, Andrew W. Salamon, Nanopharmaceuticals and PerkinElmer, White Paper)

For example, nanoparticles containing or coated with drug molecules can flow freely in the blood stream without impeding circulation. Sometimes, better dissolution is the intended therapy -- for instance when deploying a drug to highlight diseased cells during radiotherapy. On the other hand, soluble drugs quickly dissipate in the blood stream, killing off good cells before passing through the liver and kidneys. Only a fraction of the drug actually reaches the affected area. Chemotherapy is a good example of that modality. (Reference, Packaging Entrepreneurs: Legacy Pharmaceutical Packaging, Pharmaceutical Processing)

Enter, liposomes, which are manufactured nanobubbles made of fats, waxes, sterols, and fat-soluble vitamins. Liposomes can be made to specific sizes and filled with drugs to treat a number of ailments, including breast cancer. Because the drugs are inside of the liposomes, antibodies cannot neutralize them as rapidly, so more of the drugs reach their intended target over a longer period before the liposomes dissolve. (Reference, Packaging Entrepreneurs: Legacy Pharmaceutical Packaging, Pharmaceutical Processing)

Because nanopharaceuticals can enter the body through dermal exposure, inhalation, ingestion, or ocular contact, they lend themselves to innovative drug delivery systems that scientists see as potential game changers in the world of human and animal health. Like anything else, however, these “mini-miracles” are only as good as what goes into them. That is where scientific leaders such as PerkinElmer come into play. Its wide array of analytical instrumentation set the global standard in helping scientists to map and understand nanomaterials’ chemical and physical characterizations. While there is still much to learn about this nascent technology, scientists rely on PerkinElmer instrumentation every day to engineer new nanoparticles to do what was unthinkable just a few years ago.

To learn more about nanophamceuticals and PerkinElmer, visit the following links:

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