Nanotechnology will have an enormous role in the future of Healthcare

Three studies highlight how this futuristic technology can be utilized to treat different conditions

Nanotechnology has shown great promise in providing timely, precise, and effective healthcare solutions. Previous studies that I have touched base on have shown, how Cancer can be treated effectively employing this tech — the first one involved combining Copper oxide nanoparticles with Immunotherapy to kill Cancer cells and the other one involved a triggering an immune response by using salt nanoparticles. Scientists have accelerated their efforts in the field as is evident from the three recently concluded studies. Let’s review them briefly.

Light-activated nanoparticles starving Cancer cells

Let’s start off with research that uses Light-activated nanoparticles to starve cancer cells of essential proteins, they feed on. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have come up with a potential treatment for cancer by delivering a unique nanoparticle to a localized affected area — the treatment itself is activated via a light exposure.

Lead Researcher, Daniel Hayes developed the nanoparticles allowed a microRNA (miRNA) to attach to it. A miRNA is a molecule that when coupled with a messenger RNA (mRNA) prevents it from functioning. In this case, it inhibits the mRNA in a cancer cell from creating proteins, which are essential for that cancer cell to survive.

“This delivery method gives you temporal and spatial specificity. Instead of having systemic delivery of a miRNA and the associated side effects, you are able to deliver the miRNA to a specific area of tissue at a specific time by exposing it to light.” ~ Adam Glick, Study Author

In the animal trials conducted, the team delivered nanoparticles to the cancer cells of mice through an IV. Once the nanoparticles built up in the cancer-affected area, they separated the miRNA from the nanoparticles by using a specific wavelength of light. This caused the skin tumors in a group of around 20 mice to completely recede within 24 to 48 hours, while not allowing the tumors to regrow.

Complete Research was published in the Journal Biomaterials.

Nanoparticle-based Retina restores Vision

While researchers have taken strides in using technology to replace biological eyesight with bionic vision, an international team of researchers has developed a new nanoparticle-based artificial retina prosthesis that can be injected into the eye. This could be a huge step forward in treating Degenerative age-related vision loss, which is so common.

While most consider this a natural process that comes with age, this new innovative approach might prevent, or at least slow, this seemingly inevitable process. The study entailed the use of conjugated polymer nanoparticles (P3HT-NP) that can potentially spread broadly across the sub-retinal space and restore lost vision.

“In the model we studied, the nanoparticles stimulated the light-dependent activation of the intact internal retinal neurons, recovering visual responses with no inflammation of the retina.” ~ Mattia Bramini, Researcher

Researchers conducted the trials on rodents to test the efficacy and safety of these nanoparticles. After administering just one sub-retinal injection of the experimental nanoparticles, the researchers saw visual cortex activity and visual acuity of the rodents return to that of animals with healthy vision. They also noted that the way the nanoparticles dispersed across the retina suggests the technology can restore a wide field of vision.

Complete Research was published in the Journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Nanoparticles coated in an antigen stick to red blood cells strongly enough to resist being sheared off in the lungs, allowing them to reach the spleen and be passed off to immune cells, initiating an antigen-specific immune response — Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Nanoparticle-coated RBCs for effective Vaccine delivery

One of the biggest problems that scientists have to encounter is the effective deployment of a vaccine. It is a big topic of discussion these days with the upcoming vaccines for COVID-19. In a breakthrough study, Harvard researchers have developed a vaccine platform that uses red blood cells (RBCs) to generate targeted immune responses.

Researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute built on the premise that red blood cells can carry other payloads, like antibodies & drugs, apart from oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. The new system dubbed as the new system, named Erythrocyte-Driven Immune Targeting (EDIT) explores a secondary function of RBCs — carrying neutralized pathogens to the spleen, where they are passed onto antigen-presenting cells (APCs).

“[Red blood cells’] ability to enhance immune responses could make them a safe alternative to foreign adjuvants, increasing the efficacy of vaccines and speed of vaccine creation.” ~ Zongmin Zhao, Co-First Author

To make sure that the payload is not lost when the red blood cells squeeze through narrow capillaries in the lungs, researchers used nanoparticles that were made of polystyrene, and coated with an antigenic protein called ovalbumin. A lipid molecule called phosphatidylserine (PS) had to be present in just the right amounts as well — too much of it would cause the spleen to identify the cells as damaged and destroy them.

The trial runs were conducted on mice — where their RBCs were incubated with antigen-loaded nanoparticles, with a ratio of about 300 nanoparticles to one red blood cell to ensure that at least 80% stuck to the RBCs surface. It took about 20 minutes to clear all the nanoparticle coated RBCs to move from the lungs to the spleen, which remained there after 24 hours of the injection.

The amount of EDIT red blood cells in the body also remained consistent confirming they were not being destroyed by the spleen. More antibodies against ovalbumin were also found in the blood of the EDIT mice than the others. The team says that the novel technique could be used as a new delivery system for vaccines targeting a range of infections and illnesses.

Complete Research was published in the Journal PNAS.

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