(photo credit: Courtesy)
Researchers at Haifa’s Technion- Israel Institute of Technology have developed a non-invasive way to use light to release drugs slowly to the exact spot in the body that needs them. Advances in medical science over the past century have led to the development of effective drugs for various diseases in general and for cancer in particular. However, random dispersion of drugs throughout the body reduces their effectiveness and causes damage to healthy tissues. This is why cancer patients treated with chemotherapy often suffer hair loss and bowel problems characterized by rapid cell turnover, which is affected by the drug.
This is the background to the worldwide effort to develop smart methods to transport the drug to its target without contact with healthy tissue.
Now, an article in the journal ACS [American Chemical Society] Applied Materials & Interfaces
, has revealed a breakthrough in those methods has been achieved at the Technion’s Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering.
Doctoral student Alona Shagan and Prof. Boaz Mizrahi developed the innovative technology that allows the drug to be released only in the diseased tissue for which it is intended.
This is done using unique polymer packaging with trapped gold nanoparticles. When the packaging is exposed to light, the gold particles heat up and melt, allowing the drug to be released.
According to Shagan, “Photo- triggered materials play a major role in many biomedical applications, but despite their enormous potential, many of them are not applicable due to two reasons: the toxicity of the polymer packaging itself and damage caused by the high-energy [shortwave] light.”
The Technion researchers have developed the unique packaging so the elements will be softened by the projection of long-wave (near-infrared) light.
The main advantage of near-infrared light is that it penetrates the body’s tissues without harming them. “We developed a material here with varying melting points, which allows us to control fusion by wavelength,” added Mizrahi. “The advantage is that our packaging is made of polymers approved by the FDA, so we think the path to clinical implementation will be relatively short.”
The new technology can be used for purposes other than drug delivery, such as internal and external injury occlusion, temporary fixation of tissue during surgery, biodegradable scaffolding for making tissues for transplantation and even as self-healing tissue for medical and other uses. According to Mizrahi, “In this article, we focused on the concept of how we can produce the material to suit the desired mechanical and physical properties that we need.”
Shagan – who grew up in Netanya and served in the IDF’s elite 8200 unit – is currently working toward her doctorate, having completed an undergraduate degree at the Technion’s Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering.
“Science and engineering have attracted me since childhood,” she said. “When I was in my first year at the Technion, I was already sure that I would go for advanced degrees.” This summer, Shagan will fly to Boston to further study materials for use in medicine in the context of those being developed in Haifa.
Mizrahi earned a BA at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Pharmacy in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem. Already while studying for a second degree, he began developing technology to transfer drugs to the target tissue without damaging healthy tissue. After receiving his doctorate, Mizrahi went on to post-doctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and four years ago joined the Technion as a faculty member in the biotechnology and food engineering department.
“You could say that instead of buying a ready-made cake, we buy flour and sugar and control the properties of the product,” he said. “Our inspiration comes from nature, because it is an enormous laboratory that has gone through billions of years of development. There are very effective solutions to various challenges, so it is certainly worthwhile for us to learn from or at least be inspired by it, certainly when we work on applied developments.”