The nanometer-sized cargo ships look individually like a chocolate-covered nut cluster, in which a biocompatible lipid forms the chocolate shell and magnetic nanoparticles, quantum dots and the drug doxorubicin are the nuts. Credit: Ji-Ho Park, UCSD
Scientists at UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and MIT report that their nano-cargo-ship system integrates therapeutic and diagnostic functions into a single device that avoids rapid removal by the body’s natural immune system. It is 50 nanometers in size. So it has three times less volume than the typical virus.
1 nm diameter of glucose molecule
2 nm diameter of DNA helix
5 nm diameter of insulin molecule
6 nm diameter of a hemoglobin molecule
10 nm thickness of cell wall (gram negative bacteria)
75 nm size of typical virus
200 nm diameter of smallest bacteria
1000nm diameter of sperm cell (smallest cell in the human body)
“The idea involves encapsulating imaging agents and drugs into a protective ‘mother ship’ that evades the natural processes that normally would remove these payloads if they were unprotected,” said Michael Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD who headed the team of chemists, biologists and engineers that turned the fanciful concept into reality. “These mother ships are only 50 nanometers in diameter, or 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, and are equipped with an array of molecules on their surfaces that enable them to find and penetrate tumor cells in the body.”
These microscopic cargo ships could one day provide the means to more effectively deliver toxic anti-cancer drugs to tumors in high concentrations without negatively impacting other parts of the body.
The researchers designed the hull of the ships to evade detection by constructing them of specially modified lipids–a primary component of the surface of natural cells. The lipids were modified in such a way as to enable them to circulate in the bloodstream for many hours before being eliminated. This was demonstrated by the researchers in a series of experiments with mice.
The researchers loaded their ships with three payloads before injecting them in the mice. Two types of nanoparticles, superparamagnetic iron oxide and fluorescent quantum dots, were placed in the ship’s cargo hold, along with the anti-cancer drug doxorubicin. The iron oxide nanoparticles allow the ships to show up in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, scan, while the quantum dots can be seen with another type of imaging tool, a fluorescence scanner.
This study provides the first example of a single nanomaterial used for simultaneous drug delivery and multimode imaging of diseased tissue in a live animal,” said Ji-Ho Park, a graduate student in Sailor’s laboratory who was part of the team. Geoffrey von Maltzahn, a graduate student working in Bhatia’s laboratory, was also involved in the project, which was financed by a grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
The nano mother ships look individually like a chocolate-covered nut cluster, in which a biocompatible lipid forms the chocolate shell and magnetic nanoparticles, quantum dots and the drug doxorubicin are the nuts. They sail through the bloodstream in groups that, under the electron microscope, look like small, broken strands of pearls.
The researchers are now working on developing ways to chemically treat the exteriors of the nano ships with specific chemical “zip codes,” that will allow them to be delivered to specific tumors, organs and other sites in the body.