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MIT project uses nanotech to deliver drugs for fighting cancer, AIDS

Nanoparticles help researchers develop new technique for administering multiple drugs

December 30, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Researchers at MIT are using nanoparticles and infrared light as part of a project to develop a more accurate method of delivering multiple drugs to patients battling diseases such as cancer and AIDS.

The researchers have created differently shaped nanoparticles that are each designed to release their medicinal payloads at different times. According to MIT, the new drug-delivery system is externally controlled and could be used to provide patients with up to three or four drugs at a time.

"With a lot of diseases, especially cancer and AIDS, you get a synergistic effect with more than one drug," Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli, an assistant professor of biological and mechanical engineering at MIT, said in a statement.

MIT noted in an announcement about the research effort that doctors already use drug-delivery devices but that the existing ones generally can release only two drugs at a time. And the timing of the medicine's release typically has to be built into the delivery device itself, as opposed to being controlled by doctors from outside of a patient's body, according to MIT.

For the new delivery system, the MIT researchers are using gold nanoparticles in conjunction with infrared lights. When the particles are exposed to the lights, they dissolve and release their drug payloads. Nanoparticles with different shapes respond to different infrared wavelengths, so doctors should be able to release drugs at desired intervals by adjusting the wavelengths, said Andy Wijaya, an MIT graduate student who is working on the project.

Using nanotechnology to fight cancer is an idea that has been growing. Earlier this month, for example, researchers at Stanford University reported that by using the same type of nanotechnology that enables hard drives to read and write data, they have developed a system that should be able to detect cancer in the human body.

Also this month, scientists at MIT said they had developed nanotechnology-based sensors that can be placed inside living cells to determine whether chemotherapy drugs are reaching their targets or attacking healthy cells. The sensors, which can detect chemotherapy drugs as well as toxins and free radicals, are carbon nanotubes that the scientists have wrapped in DNA so they can be safely injected into living tissue, according to a release from the university.

Another group of Stanford researchers announced in August that they had found a way to use nanotechnology to aim chemotherapy drugs only at cancer cells, keeping healthy tissue in surrounding cells safe from the toxic effects of chemo treatments. The new methodology relies on single-walled carbon nanotubes to function as targeted delivery vehicles.

And in July, scientists at the University of California, San Diego, said they had discovered a way to use nanotechnology-based "smart bombs" to streamline lower doses of chemotherapy to cancerous tumors, thereby cutting down on a cancer's ability to spread through the body.

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