When Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Hyunjoon Kong, graduate student Cartney Smith, and colleagues set out to improve MR imaging (MRI), they turned current contrast agent technology on its head—or rather, they turned it inside out.
The new compound they designed in collaboration with Roger Adams Professor of Chemistry Steven C. Zimmerman is not only more effective, but also self-assembling. Kong is a member of the Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering research theme at the Institute for Genomic Biology.
When doctors perform an MRI, they administer a contrast agent: a chemical that, when injected into the bloodstream or ingested by the patient just before the MRI, improves the clarity of structures or organs in the resulting image. One common class of contrast agent, often used for imaging of blood vessels and internal bleeding, contains gadolinium, a rare-earth metal.
Recently, biomedical researchers have found ways to increase the effectiveness of certain contrast agents by associating them with nanoparticles. The contrast agent being used is packaged inside or bonded to the surface of microscopic particles, which can be designed to target certain regions of the body or prolong the agent’s activity.
Researchers are now exploring the multipurpose use of nanoparticles. If particles could be loaded with several types of contrast agents or dyes instead of one, or a contrast agent along with another type of diagnostic aid or a medication, doctors could more efficiently test for and treat conditions, and limit the number of injections received by patients.
Just like toddlers sharing a new toy, though, compounds packaged together into a nanoparticle cannot always play well together. For example, contrast agents may bind to other chemicals, reducing their effectiveness. In addition, when contrast agents are enclosed inside a nanoparticle, they may not work as well. Attempts to attach agents to the outer surface of nanoparticles via covalent formation are also problematic, as they can negatively affect the activity of the nanoparticles or the compounds that they carry.
Kong, Smith and colleagues tackled these challenges by using interactions between naturally occurring biomolecules as a guide. Many types of proteins are strongly attached to cell membranes not by covalent bonds, but by the sum of multiple weaker forces—the attraction of positive and negative charges, and the tendency of non-polar (oil-like) substances to seek each other and avoid water.
The group hypothesized that the same types of forces could be used to attach a contrast agent to the surface of a type of nanoparticle called a liposome, which resembles a little piece of cell membrane in the shape of a tiny bubble. The researchers designed a “fastener” molecule, DTPA-chitosan-g-C18, that is charged, attracting it to the liposome and binding it to the contrast agent gadolinium. A nonpolar region anchors it to the liposome membrane.
In a series of experiments reported in a recent ACS Nano article (DOI: 10.1021/nn4026228), Kong and others demonstrated that their fastener molecule readily inserted itself into the membrane of pre-made liposomes. Gadolinium stably associated with the modified nanoparticles in solution, and experiments in animal models showed that these nanoparticles produced clear diagnostic images.
“The strategy works like Velcro on a molecular level to adhere functional units to the outer leaflet of a liposome,” said Smith, who was first author on the study. “This work represents a new material design strategy that is scalable and easily implemented. The development of improved contrast agents has the potential to directly impact patients' lives by detecting damaged blood vessels.”
One of the difficulties of working with liposomes is their tendency to degrade inside the body. When the fastener-loaded liposomes degraded, some of the efficacy of the gadolinium was lost. In a second study published in Langmuir (DOI: 10.1021/la500412r), Kong and Smith developed a process for chemically cross-linking the components of the nanoparticle that prolonged the life of the nanoparticles in biological conditions.
The work reported in ACS Nano was a collaboration among Kong, Smith, Zimmerman, and others at the University of Illinois, as well as Dr. Sanjay Misra and researchers at the Mayo Clinic. Both studies were supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, as well as the University of Illinois Center for Advanced Study.
Nicholas Vasi | Eurek Alert!
Gene switch may repair DNA and prevent cancer
12.02.2016 | Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University
New method opens crystal clear views of biomolecules
11.02.2016 | Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY
Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.
The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...
The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.
Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...
Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.
The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).
Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels
A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...
12.02.2016 | Event News
09.02.2016 | Event News
02.02.2016 | Event News
12.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
12.02.2016 | Life Sciences
12.02.2016 | Medical Engineering