Remotely-Activated Nanoparticles Could Soon Produce Drugs Within the Body

By Chelsea Whyte on July 2, 2012 8:10 PM EDT

empty pill
Pills may be a thing of the past. New research has shown that nanoparticles can be triggered to create drugs from within the body. (Photo: Creative Commons: Brooks Ellio)

In the near future, medicine may not come via a pill or injection - it could be produced inside your body by minuscule capsules that don't contain drugs but the biological machinery for making a drug.

Daniel Anderson of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explains that development of nanoscale production units for protein-based drugs in the human body may provide a new approach for treating disease.

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These production units could be turned on when needed, producing medicines that cannot be taken orally or are toxic and would harm other parts of the body, reports News Track India.

The team used nano-sized bubbles with a fatty membrane that contain the cellular machinery - amino acids, ribosomes and DNA - needed for transcription and translation of genetic material. Transcription is the 'unzipping' of the DNA double helix and translation happens when messenger RNA copies the open DNA strands and relays information to the rest of a cell in order to create a protein.

The authors of the work have developed an artificial machinery similar to that in living cells which led to "nanoparticles that can be controllably triggered to synthesize proteins." Proteins are the laborers of the human body and are often used as drugs.

The nanoparticles worked when injected into mice, common stand-ins for humans in the laboratory, producing proteins when a laser was shined onto the animals.

It's tough to imagine all this happening in a nanoparticle no bigger than the width of a hair, but interestingly, they found that the smaller the particle, the more protein it produce. While 170 nanometer particles produced about 81 proteins per particle, 400 nanometer particles - which have 13 times greater volume - produced only about 190 proteins per particle. While it's a bit more, it's not consistent with the much larger size.

Smaller particles performing more efficiently has been seen in other studies, but the authors said, "While the exact reason for this phenomenon is unclear, it seems possible that the close proximity of the "reacting" components - like amino acids - to the machinery - ribosomes - plays a role in more efficient use of resources during these processes.

Until now, researchers have only done this with live bacteria that were designed to make proteins at disease sites. But unlike bacterial systems, artificial ones are modular, and it is easier to modify them, according to BioScholar.

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