A relatively recent subgroup of nanotech research is what is beginning to be commonly referred to as "nanotox," or the study of how nanoparticles react to the environment and human body. It is a line of inquiry that directly arose out of concerns that if engineered nanoscale particles have the potential to do great things in specifically targeted way, then there might be some unintentional harm happening as well. A group of nanotox researchers at North Carolina State University looking into how nanoparticles interact with living things might have also, as a side benefit, made a discovery with applications for drug delivery.
"We wanted to find a good, biologically relevant way to determine how nanomaterials react with cells," Nancy Monteiro-Riviere, professor of investigative dermatology and toxicology, said in a release. "When a nanomaterial enters the human body, it immediately binds to various proteins and amino acids. The molecules a particle binds with will determine where it will go."
The binding, itself, affects the particle's behavior inside the body, she said. So, amino acids and proteins that coat a nanoparticle can actually change its properties enough to reduce toxicity and to enhance its ability to deliver drugs to targeted cells. Tweak the nanoparticle's size and surface characteristics, and that will determine what kinds of materials it will bond with. Then it's just a matter of observing the "fingerprint" of a particular nanomaterial to predict how it will behave.
And that's where the two-for-one nanotox/drug delivery deal comes in.
"That in turn will give us a better idea of which nanoparticles may be useful for drug delivery, and which ones may be hazardous to humans or the environment," Riviere said.
The study results were scheduled appear in the Aug. 23 online edition of Nature Nanotechnology.
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