Today, researchers are working on nanotechnologies that do essentially the same thing, though without a miniaturized Raquel Welch. Like the fictional craft Proteus, however, these remarkable “nanovesicles” can travel to specific sites in the body to deliver lifesaving therapies.
Targeted drug delivery is a truly transformational development. Today, most of the medicines we take do not reach their intended targets. They can be destroyed or linger in the body with unwanted side effects. Some of these molecules are extremely toxic, as is the case with medicines that target cancers.
In effect, traditional drug delivery is analogous to carpet-bombing. We can destroy targets, but there is often enormous collateral damage. The smart drug delivery revolution is the equivalent of GPS-guided smart bombs that target biological terrorists with pinpoint accuracy.
Specifically, we are talking about delivering drugs in nanovesicles that protect them from the immune system and home in on their target cells. This precision has many benefits. It prevents a huge amount of waste that is expensive, both in monetary and health terms. Moreover, it increases the effectiveness of many pharmaceuticals by putting more of a drug where it is needed.
Smart drug delivery allows other forms of optimized therapeutic delivery, as well. Not only can dosages be controlled, the timing and duration of therapies is also within the grasp of scientists.
One of the earliest molecular delivery systems was Doxil, back in the 1980s. Doxil is a liposome-based encapsulation designed to carry a chemotherapy drug to tumors while minimizing damage to healthy tissues. Liposomes are tiny bubbles or vesicles that normally exist inside the cell. In the case of Doxil, they were used as miniature shuttles to carry the chemo drug doxorubicin.
Since then, of course, the state of the science has advanced enormously. For example, researchers report in The Journal of Clinical Investigation that they have recently created “nanobees.” These are nanoparticles that carry the same toxin found in a bee sting. These nanoparticles home in on cancerous tissue only, leaving healthy tissue alone. Once in contact with a tumor, they deliver the toxin. In tests, breast cancer tumors shrank by 25% and melanoma tumors diminished by an amazing 88%. If this toxin were not delivered in a targeted manner, it would cause extensive damage to healthy tissue. However, these nanobees have the ability to target only cancerous cells and literally sting them with the bee toxin.
Also, researchers from Northwestern University have been able to efficiently deliver genes to cervical cancer cells. The delivery vehicle they developed consisted of microscopic structures called nanodiamonds, which resemble the crystalline molecules found in diamonds. Researchers have demonstrated that these nanodiamonds can effectively deliver chemotherapy as well as protein-based drugs.
Even more astonishing is that one of the breakthrough companies that is a leader in therapeutic delivery systems got its start in the early 1990s. Its focus was on the creation of drugs to counteract viral diseases like HIV and influenza. Eventually, its research led to the investigation of symmetrically branching “snowflake” shaped molecules known as dendrimers.
Dendrimers are large synthetic molecules that can be tailored precisely to perform specific functions. Because this dendrimer-based delivery technology can modify small molecule drugs, it has potential applications for most traditional pharmaceuticals. Old therapies may see new uses because dendrimers can control the duration and distribution of drug activity.
Not only can dendrimers deliver drugs, they can also act as drugs themselves. The tips of the “branches” on the snowflake-shaped dendrimer molecule can be modified to function in many different ways. Since the various branches on the “snowflake” can have different active ends, a single dendrimer can accomplish a variety of therapeutic functions simultaneously. Dendrimers can affect solid tissue tumors like prostate and breast cancer. They can also be used as a component in a diagnostic platform. Additionally, industrial and chemical applications exist as a function of their unique properties.
There are several companies developing new smart drug delivery technologies. While these companies will provide a fantastic voyage to enormous profits, most of us still need to take steps to improve our health and to slow aging to the extent we can.
As mentioned in a previous posts on this blog, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN, has reported that “Practical Immortality may now be within our grasp.”
So now the question becomes, “how do we slow the rate of aging and avoid the frailty that would make longevity less desirable?”
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