From Big Pharma to biotech, research scientists to practicing clinicians – the industry is intently focused on developing more highly effective drug delivery systems. In recent years, clinical research has revealed innovative solutions in the form of nanodiamonds, microneedles, gold particles, silk and protein clusters; all of which represent a step forward with regard to precision and patient safety. It’s all about effectively targeted techniques that offer professionals better ways to administer medicines, track their effectiveness, and minimize unwanted side-effects. And now scientists have discovered what may prove to be the most significant advance yet – electronically controlled drugs that can be manipulated while inside the patient’s body.
“Smart” drugs zero-in on disease
Despite rigorous pharmaceutical quality control protocols, drugs typically come with unwanted side-effects. Depending on the therapy, these impacts can be so disruptive as to force the patient to abandon the medicine altogether. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh believe they have found a way to mitigate dangerous side-effects by using electronic pulses – signals that tell an implanted device how and when to release drugs, and where to send them in the patient’s body. Lead researcher, Xinyan Tracy Cui, explains that in the lab, “smart” medical implants can now release drugs on demand when exposed to various cues, including ultraviolet light and electrical current. These advances are largely thanks to developments in nanomaterials that can be designed to carry drugs and then release them at specific times and dosages.
How the device works
Nanomaterials play a key role in customizing the most accurate drug delivery systems. In the case of remote controlled drugs, the Pittsburgh team used extremely thin nanosheets of grapheme oxide, which they combined with a polymer scaffold that conducts electricity. The researchers loaded the nanosheets with dexamethasone, a drug used to control inflammation, and then zapped the sheets with an electrical current to control release. They used the thickness of the sheets to control how much drug was being carried, and the number and magnitude of zaps to control how much of the drug was released.
During testing, the researchers found that even after zapping the device several hundred times, the drug responded consistently, with the same amount of release each time. Industry professionals and students in pharmaceutical courses understand that when it comes to administering medicine, standardization is crucial. Having mastered control over their device, the Pittsburgh scientists believe that their electronic delivery system could help patients with a range of conditions. Epileptics, for example could access a measured dose of medicine, already inside the body, at the onset of seizure. Xinyan Tracy Cui’s team has begun investigating applications for cancer drugs, but stipulate that further tweaking and testing is required before the system is ready for market release.
Would you be comfortable using a remote-controlled drug delivery system?