Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Making tiny plastic particles to deliver lifesaving medicine


Many medications such as therapeutic DNA, insulin and human growth hormone must enter the body through painful injections, but a Johns Hopkins researcher is seeking to deliver the same treatment without the sting. Justin Hanes wants to pack the drugs inside microscopic plastic spheres that can be inhaled painlessly. Inside the lungs, the particles should dissolve harmlessly, releasing the medicine at a predetermined pace.

"We’ve made significant progress," said Hanes, an assistant professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, "especially when you consider all of the challenges we’ve faced in designing and synthesizing these new biomaterials."

For one thing, the polymers used in making such particles must dissolve slowly in the body, releasing the medicine over a prescribed period of hours, days or even weeks. Also, these materials must be strong and flexible, so that the particles do not crack or crumble before delivering their treatment. At the same time, the particles must not stick together, forming clumps that will prevent proper travel through the air passages. Once the particles deposit in the lungs, some therapies will require that they cross the thick mucus lining of air passages prior to releasing their medicinal cargo. Finally, the materials must not trigger a strong immune response, in which the body’s natural defense system attacks a particle before it has delivered its dose.

Hanes and his lab colleagues have overcome many of these hurdles, publishing their research results in peer-reviewed journals. Last year, in an issue of "Biomaterials," Hanes’ team, including associate research scientist Jie Fu and doctoral candidate Jennifer Fiegel, reported that it had synthesized a new type of porous polymer particles capable of releasing drugs in an environment resembling the deep lungs. Importantly, the components used to create these plastic microspheres were materials already FDA-approved for other medical applications, making it more likely they will pose no health hazards to humans in their new polymeric form.

Recent work by Hanes, doctoral candidate Michelle Dawson and associate professor Denis Wirtz has focused on understanding how to alter the design of drug-carrying particles so that they can more efficiently cross the mucus lining in the lungs to reach their cell targets underneath. Reports on this work are expected appear shortly in the "Journal of Biology Chemistry," "Biotechnology Progress" and the "Journal of Aerosol Medicine."

Earlier this year, in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," Hanes, Wirtz and Junghae Suh, a doctoral candidate, reported that their nanoscopic particles appear to be able to efficiently deliver therapeutic genes by carrying DNA directly to the cell nucleus. Someday, Hanes said, this technique also may prove useful in delivering toxic cancer-fighting drugs only to cells affected by the disease.

For his research accomplishments, Hanes is being recognized in the October issue of MIT’s "Technology Review" as one of the world’s top 100 young innovators. The TR100, chosen by the publication’s editors and an elite panel of judges, consists of 100 individuals under 35 whose innovative work in technology has a profound impact on today’s world. Nominees are recognized for their contributions in transforming the nature of technology in industries such as biotechnology, computing, energy, medicine, manufacturing, nanotechnology, telecommunications and transportation. This marks the second consecutive year that a Johns Hopkins engineering faculty member has appeared on the TR100. Last year, the magazine singled out Jennifer Elisseeff, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, for her research in the field of tissue engineering.

Hanes has focused much of his attention on the lungs because they possess several advantages over other drug delivery routes. When medicine is swallowed, it must pass through the stomach, where it may be degraded by digestive acids. Injections may avoid this problem, but they also are painful and may be difficult for some patients to administer to themselves. Inhalation, however, as smokers and asthmatics know, is generally a quick and painless method of getting a drug into the body. Still, Hanes noted, "the lungs are pretty sacred ground. You have to be very conservative about what you put in there."

As a doctoral student at MIT, Hanes played a leading role in developing porous polymer drug delivery particles coated with a special surfactant native to the lung. The surfactant is designed to fool the body into thinking these particles belong in the lungs, warding off an immune response. In 1999, Hanes and his colleagues received a U.S. patent for this invention; Hanes currently holds eight U.S. patents for advanced drug delivery applications.

At Johns Hopkins, he is building upon this research by synthesizing improved inhalation particles, each about a tenth of the diameter of a human hair. He soon hopes to begin testing their safety and effectiveness in animal models and eventually in human trials. Hanes also is trying to produce even smaller particles that could be used to deliver powerful medications directly into diseased cells, while leaving normal tissue unharmed.

Hanes’ early research has been supported by several grants and awards, including one from the Whitaker Foundation.

Phil Sneiderman | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Advanced analysis of brain structure shape may track progression to Alzheimer's disease
26.10.2016 | Massachusetts General Hospital

nachricht Indian roadside refuse fires produce toxic rainbow
26.10.2016 | Duke University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>