Occasionally, you come across a piece of research that has ramifications far beyond the ones envisaged by the researchers. The Journal for Nanotechnology, appropriately named Small has this experiment reported in this month’s copy. In a fascinating understatement they say:
The concept of releasing a drug inside a cell and following its action is applicable to many problems in cell biology and medicine.
Talk about selling-short. This is the antithesis of the usual media exaggeration.
What the authors have done is created a microscopic capsule and filled it with a drug. The capsule has then been delivered into a cell and the cell exposed to harmless infrared light. The capsule protein has been doped with metallic nano-particles that split the capsule open on exposure to the infrared light, delivering the drug directly to the cell.
The researchers apparently simply see this as a useful research technique for studying specific drug reactions in cells (in fairness, some of the authors expand on the significance in a press release). The implication, however, it a little more far-reaching. This research indicates that we can eventually deliver unstable drugs (ones that would normally be broken down by the body) directly into cells. The significance of this is quite staggering. Currently we have to give large doses of unstable drugs with all the concomitant side-effects, to get the effect we need. This would enable us to deliver much smaller, targeted amounts. We could deliver gene therapy directly to cell nuclei in a safe, controlled fashion. We could have a staggered release system delivering medicines such as insulin in response to blood sugar. The possibilities are amazing.
Of course, this is early laboratory experimentation and a targeted, controlled drug delivery system such as this is undoubtably many, many years away.
But now we know it is technically possible.
Hat tip: Peter Griffin of SciBlogs