'Bed of nails' delivers with nanospikes

Carbon nanofibers embedded in elastic membrane--Courtesy of NC State

Does the thought of a bed of nails bring tears to your eyes? Soon it could bring drugs or gene therapies to your brain, according to researchers at North Carolina State University.

The team has designed a flexible silicon mat studded with carbon nanospikes (technically known as vertically aligned carbon nanofibers, or VACNFs). The nanofibers are "grown" on a layer of aluminum, and the metal is coated with a liquid silicone polymer. Once the polymer is set into an elastic membrane, the aluminum base is dissolved away, leaving "nails" that can be coated with drugs sticking out of a polymer bed. According to Anatoli Melechko of NC State, the technique is "relatively easy and inexpensive."

In a preclinical study to show the feasibility of delivery to the brain, the 15-µm-long fibers pierced human brain microcapillary endothelial cells (HBMEC) and delivered a plasmid, according to research published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

While this is still at a very early stage, one application for this microscopic "bed of nails" could be to create a balloon that when inflated at the target site would force drug-coated spikes through cell walls to deliver the drug. The balloon would then be deflated and withdrawn.

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