Protocells blow away liposomes in drug-delivery showdown

Move over, liposomes. There's a new nano kid in town that not only shoots down cancer cells, it loads faster and can fire off more bullets at once. Liposomes are composed of simple layers of fat encapsulating an anticancer drug. The next generation comes from Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico, which created silica nanoparticles that brings liposome drug delivery to the next level.

In an article published in Nature Materials, the researchers describe silica nanoparticles about 150 nanometers in diameter as honeycombed with cavities that can store comparatively vast quantities of drugs.

"The enormous capacity of the nanoporous core, with its high surface area, combined with the improved targeting of an encapsulating lipid bilayer [called a liposome], permit a single 'protocell' loaded with a drug cocktail to kill a drug-resistant cancer cell," Sandia researcher and UNM professor Jeff Brinker said in a news release. "That's a millionfold increase in efficiency over comparable methods employing liposomes alone--without nanoparticles--as drug carriers."

The researchers created a little showdown between liposomes and the new protocells in which the latter blew away the competition in terms of toxicity against cancer cells, stability and cargo capacity.

The blog of the Foresight Institute, a nanotech think tank, commented on the breakthrough, and others like it, saying that drug delivery appears to be where a great deal of current nanotech innovation is happening. "Nanomedicine, and especially targeted drug delivery, is looking like an area where accelerating progress is demonstrating the value of investing in building increasingly complex nanostructures. Will this trend continue until we reach the point of atomically precise manufacture of medical nanorobots?"

- read the release from Sandia
- commentary from the Foresight Institute
- and the abstract in Nature Materials