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Researchers use nanotech to fight drug addiction, cancer

Nanorods deliver molecules to the brain, silencing gene that's key to addictive behaviors

April 6, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - University at Buffalo researchers say they have found a way to use nanotechnology to fight drug addiction.

Nanoparticles can be used to deliver specific molecules to the brain to turn off a gene that plays a "critical role" in causing drug addictions, according to a report from the university. The same nanotechnology could be used to deliver drugs that treat Parkinson's disease, cancer and other neurologic and psychiatric disorders, directly to the brain, it added.

Researchers soon will begin studying ways to also use the technique to treat AIDS dementia, prostate cancer and asthma.

"These findings mean that in the future, we might be able to add a powerful pharmaceutical agent to the current arsenal of weapons in order to more effectively fight a whole range of substance addictions," said Paras N. Prasad, who led the university's research team, in a statement.

Nanotechnology is becoming increasingly important to medical researchers.

Last month, scientists at the School of Pharmacy at the University of London reported that they are using nanotechnology to blast cancer cells in mice with "tumor busting" genes, giving new hope to patients with inoperable tumors. Tests showed that the new technique leaves healthy cells undamaged during treatment, which generally is a problem with chemotherapy.

And last December, researchers at MIT announced that they had developed nanotechnology that can be placed inside living cells to determine whether chemotherapy drugs are reaching their targets or are attacking healthy cells. The sensors, which can detect chemotherapy drugs, toxins and free radicals, are carbon nanotubes that scientists have wrapped in DNA so they can be safely injected into living tissue.

Scientists at Stanford University reported in August that they had found a way to use nanotechnology to have chemotherapy drugs target only cancer cells, keeping healthy tissue safe from the treatment's toxic effects.

In the new University at Buffalo study, Stanley A. Schwartz, a professor in the school's departments of medicine, pediatrics and microbiology, noted in a statement that nanoparticles are a safe and efficient way to deliver highly sophisticated drugs to silence abnormal genes. Scientists have found that Darpp-32, a protein in the brain, is likely a key trigger for addictive tendencies. Sending RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecules to brain tissue inhibits the production of Darpp-32, which could, in turn, inhibit addictions, he added.

"When you silence this gene, the physical craving for the drug should be reduced," said Adela C. Boniou, a postdoctoral researcher on the University at Buffalo team.

The scientists reported using nanorods, which are gold nanoparticles shaped like rods, to deliver the molecules. The elongated shape allows more molecules to be loaded onto the nanoparticle.

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